Citing a massive influx of refugees arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, border officials said Friday they are developing plans to fly potentially thousands of migrant families to other cities away from the southern border where those families could be processed and then released.
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The extraordinary move has prompted serious concerns in local communities like South Florida, where officials there say they don’t have the ability to handle hundreds of migrants at a time.
An official from U.S. Customs and Border Protection told reporters in a conference call that the plan was not aimed at dumping undocumented migrants in sanctuary cities to punish Democrats, as President Donald Trump has threatened to do via Twitter.
Cities would be picked, the official said, based on where CBP already has a “footprint,” and preference would be given to cities with CBP offices that have enough bandwidth to process hundreds of migrants at a time. That means most likely larger ports of entry along the U.S.-Canadian border and coastal cities.
The federal government has already relied on buses to transfer migrants away to less crowded border stations, namely from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, to Laredo, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona, to El Centro area in California. The official said two flights have been used as well, including one to move migrants from the Rio Grande area to San Diego, California.
Trump has previously threatened to flood sanctuary cities like New York City and San Francisco where laws limit cooperation with immigration officials. But White House aides have said the focus of discussions is primarily about redistributing of migrants across the country to lighten the burden on border states.
Those Illegal Immigrants who can no longer be legally held (Congress must fix the laws and loopholes) will be, subject to Homeland Security, given to Sanctuary Cities and States!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2019
In the past week, border authorities have averaged 4,500 apprehensions per day and facilities aren't equipped to care for the influx of children, the official said.
“This is an emergency,” the official said. “The entire system is overwhelmed, and we are simply trying to safely get them out of our custody as quickly as possible.”
The announcement from CBP comes after local officials in Florida sounded the alarms, insisting their communities are not prepared to manage migrant families.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said that Border Patrol operations in Miami had informed him that as many as 1,000 migrants a month from El Paso, Texas, would be transported to Florida and split between Palm Beach and Broward County, Florida, in the coming weeks.
The CBP official confirmed that Florida had been identified as one of many places where processing could be done but said there were no current plans to send migrant families to Florida.
“We do not have any aircraft flying into Florida at this time,” the CBP official said.
But the agency is looking into “capacity building and contingency plans across the nation,” he added.
Under U.S. and international law, the migrants have the right to claim asylum and plead their case to a judge. But the immigration courts are overwhelmed, and officials say they are struggling just to process so many people at a time.
Some 109,000 undocumented migrants were stopped at the border in April alone. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released about 180,000 family members since December, while CPB has released 40,000 since mid-March.
Unlawful arrivals are overwhelming our system. Now I have just been informed by #PalmBeach Sheriff that starting next week Border Patrol will begin transporting 500 migrants a month from border to #Broward & PalmBeach #Florida, & releasing them pending an asylum hearing#Sayfie— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 16, 2019
Upon notification, officials in Broward County said they began working quickly to alert local nonprofits, shelters and businesses about the new arrivals. But the mayor warned of a potential "homeless encampment" if federal assistance isn't provided.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Broward Mayor Mark Bogen said in a statement Friday. “We will do everything possible to help these people. If the president will not provide us with financial assistance to house and feed these people, he will be creating a homeless encampment.”
A Broward County official said local authorities weren’t told why their community was selected to receive the migrants.
“It took everyone by surprise,” said Kimberly Maroe, the county’s public information manager.
“We spent a lot of time making sure people don't come into South Florida illegally,” Bradshaw told reporters Thursday. “Well, guess what? The federal government now is bringing people that have come into the country illegally to us that have come over out in El Paso. And I don't think it's right.”
Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security with several questions demanding to know the agency’s plans for transporting migrants to the state.
The CBP official said no cities have been identified yet for mass transfers. When asked which ones were most likely to fall under consideration, the official said: "Every Border Patrol location we have in the United States."