Officials in South Florida say they are frantically preparing for an influx of immigrants being sent by the federal government as the number camped along the U.S. Mexico border grows rapidly.
Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said Thursday that officials in his community and neighboring Palm Beach County were alerted by the federal government that more than a 100 immigrants would be sent weekly to each of the two counties by plane starting in about two weeks. No shelters have been designated and no federal funding allotted to house, feed or guard them, Bogen said.
The Democratic mayor called it a “humanitarian crisis,” and warned that many would likely become homeless.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said he was notified of the plans by the Miami-based office of the U.S. Border Patrol, and that a total of 1,000 people per month would be brought to the two counties from the El Paso, Texas, area. He said “family units” of migrants would be processed in both Florida counties, given a notice to appear in court and then released into the community.
“We don’t know if that means a 15-year-old, a mother and a father, or a 5-year old and a mother,” Bradshaw said. “We believe this is a public safety issue. What kind of health conditions do they have?”
President Donald Trump suggested last month he was considering releasing “illegal immigrants” into so-called “Sanctuary Cities” to punish Democratic congressional foes for inaction on the border.
Although the Justice Department has in the past listed Broward and Palm Beach as sanctuary jurisdictions — and both are Democratic strongholds — officials in both counties have maintained they are complying with federal immigration enforcement requests.
Democratic Florida Congressman Ted Deutch called Trump’s immigration policies “mean-spirited” and said he was unable to get federal officials to clarify the Florida plans. He urged the Customs and Border Protection agency to brief Congress on the situation and what help the federal government would provide.
The influx comes as a burgeoning number of Cubans have joined people from Central America and elsewhere trying to get into the U.S. through the Mexican border, creating a massive backlog of people waiting on the Mexican side for months for their chance to apply for asylum. The recent surge of Cubans has been propelled in part by loosened traveled restrictions in Central America and deteriorating living conditions in Cuba.
U.S. authorities have in recent days been using buses and aircraft to move migrants from the border to less-crowded areas, including in Colorado, for processing.
The Broward mayor warned that the influx would strain the county’s social services and be harmful for immigrants stranded without money, housing or knowledge of the city. He said officials are reaching out to nonprofits and businesses to find resources and other support.
“If the President will not provide us with financial assistance to house and feed these people, he will be creating a homeless encampment,” Bogen said. “I would suggest that we bring them to the Trump hotels and ask the President to open his heart and home as well.”
Administrators in Broward and Palm Beach planned to have a strategy session. Palm Beach County Mayor Mack Bernard said he would reach out to Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying that the burden on his county would be “humungous, specifically for our school system.”
“If so many people are coming to Palm Beach County we may have to declare a national emergency,” Bernard said.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he’s been briefed by the Palm Beach County sheriff. He tweeted that “unlawful arrivals are overwhelming our system.” His office did not immediately respond to an email seeking further comment.
María Rodriguez, executive director of Florida Immigration Coalition, said the group has been told of the relocation and is trying to come up with a plan.
“We will support and welcome refugees no matter where they come from,” Rodriguez said.