Florida

The impact of the migrant wave in the Florida Keys

(NewsNation) — As a record number of migrants attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border by land, authorities in Florida are grappling with an influx of migrants arriving by sea.

Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order activating the Florida National Guard to deal with the influx of migrants landing in the Florida Keys.

Most of these migrants are from Cuba and Haiti, and at least 65 have died at sea since August. In total, more than 4,400 migrants have arrived in Florida by boat in the past five months.

NewsNation joined border officials in Marathon, Fla. to see firsthand how authorities are handling the crisis.

During the day, federal agents guided NewsNation to some of the popular landing spots for illegal migrants, many of which are public beaches.

In some areas, makeshift boats line the banks. An abandoned ship is strewn with clothes and shoes – now artifacts of a perilous journey.

Just steps away is another boat that agents say has been stuck for a few weeks. It was carrying about 20 migrants when it reached shore.

Authorities say moving the boats has become an expensive, labor-intensive process.

“They’re not functional, you can’t drive them to a boat ramp and load them onto a trailer,” said Adam Hoffner, director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Operations in Miami. “Basically, they have to be disposed of.”

Last year, Monroe County — which includes the Florida Keys — spent more than $93,000 on ship removals. Officials say migrant ships accounted for more than 67% of that total.

Despite the distances, the exact number of migrant and abandoned ships in the Florida Keys is unknown.

Less than two weeks ago, the US Coast Guard intercepted a sailboat loaded with 70 Cuban and Haitian migrants. The Coast Guard said encounters with migrants in its Miami sector have increased 400% since October.

Despite the recent spike, Hoffner says the illegal crossings are not new but have become part of a broader, worrying trend.

“This wasn’t an overnight surge, this has been going on for some time relatively,” he said.

This reality has forced CBP to send additional resources to the region.

When migrants land, agents say it can take up to an hour to process a single person. If you spread this across several hundred simultaneous arrivals, it becomes a significant resource challenge.

But maybe relief will come.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced it would immediately turn back Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on migrants arriving in Florida.

The impact of Biden’s announcement will be more apparent when the January border encounters numbers are released next month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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