MONROE COUNTY, FLORIDA — Cuban and Haitian migrants arriving on Florida shorelines have officials seeking additional help in what Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay calls a “humanitarian crisis.” The sheriff, whose office is struggling to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in its response, said a lack of preparedness by the federal government is fueling the inundation.
Since last week, refugees have arrived daily on the shores of the Florida Keys, packed in sea-worn boats, gathering around the islands waiting for federal immigration officials to process them. The surge of migrants from Caribbean nations is one of the largest in recent years, according to U.S. Border Patrol.
HUGE INCREASE IN MIGRANT ENCOUNTERS
Over the weekend, more than 160 refugees arrived in the Upper and Middle Keys. According to Sheriff Ramsay, an estimated 300 more arrived at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and Marquesas Keys forcing officials to close Dry Tortugas National Park – 70 miles west of Key West - so agents could process the influx of people.
Sunday morning, Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar said that federal agents, in cooperation with local law enforcement, responded to ten migrant landings since early Saturday morning – a 400 percent increase for the Miami Sector responsible for border enforcement across Florida.
The Miami Herald reported that more than 100 Haitians landed in Key Largo on an overcrowded sailboat just a day after the Cuban arrived. Other groups of refugees arrived in Marathon and Islamorada. The influx continued Wednesday afternoon.
LACK OF FEDERAL RESOURCES
Sheriff Ramsay said the influx has burdened local law enforcement because federal agencies did not have a working plan to “deal with a mass migration issue.”
The U.S. Border patrol told the Monroe County Sheriff’s that some migrant landings may have to “wait for federal resources to arrive until the following day, aggravating the mass migration in the Keys,” according to a January 2 statement by the Sheriff's Office.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 41,000 Haitian and Cuban migrants in November 2022, compared with almost 7,900 in November 2021, according to the most recent agency data.
The Migration Policy Institute reveals the U.S. Coast Guard prohibited more Haitians from reaching U.S. soil over a seventh-month period in 2022 than it had in any previous year since 1994. Under Executive Order 12807 (1992), in support of USC Title 8, the U.S. Coast Guard will interdict undocumented migrants prior to landfall in the United States. Once a migrant makes landfall on American soil, they must be processed by Customs and Border Protection.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL UPHEAVAL
The surge in refugees on Florida shores comes at a time when both Cuba and Haiti grapple with social and economic upheaval. U.S. sanctions in Cuba and COVID-related lockdowns have made living conditions more difficult for residents. Additionally, the island nation’s struggling tourism industry has contributed to one of the worst economic situations in modern history
Since the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse, gang violence, including kidnappings and murders, has increased across the country. On top of that, gang-controlled blockades have increased the shortage of food and water, exacerbating an already burdensome way of life for most residents.