Proposal to fly migrants to Florida, other states scrapped after Trump intervenes

PHOTO: Migrants, mostly from Central America, que to board a van which will take them to a processing center, May 16, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.PlayPaul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Tribal nation on US-Mexico border on front lines of illicit cross-border trade

A plan by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ease pressure at processing stations in Texas by potentially flying migrants to other states fell apart this weekend after the White House intervened and President Donald Trump declared the country "FULL," forcing CBP to backpedal and look for new ways to handle the thousands of undocumented migrants arriving each week.

Interested in Immigration?

Add Immigration as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Immigration news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
Add Interest

The incident underscores the heightened political environment in which border officials are operating. Authorities along the U.S.-Mexico border say they encountered some 4,500 undocumented migrants in the past week alone, and have stopped some half a million people since early September.

Florida's Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said Monday he was relieved that the plan was no longer in place.

"We understand the governor spoke to the president and we've been informed they're not coming to south Florida," he told ABC News on Friday. "I'm thankful to our governor and our elected officials for working together to determine and solve a problem."

Last week, Bogen and other local officials in Florida began pushing back after the Palm Beach County sheriff said he was told U.S. Border Patrol planned to send as many as 1,000 migrants a month from El Paso, Texas, to Florida -- split between Palm Beach County and Broward County. Bogen said he quickly began notifying nonprofits and shelters, but warned that the president would be creating a "homeless encampment" of undocumented migrants unless he provided federal assistance.

The concern quickly spread to Florida's Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis -- a Trump ally -- who began pressing the administration for answers.

PHOTO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, speaks during a bill signing ceremony at the William J. Kirlew Junior Academy in Miami Gardens, Fla., May 9, 2019. Lynne Sladky/AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, speaks during a bill signing ceremony at the William J. Kirlew Junior Academy in Miami Gardens, Fla., May 9, 2019.

CBP officials scrambled to respond on Friday, convening a call with reporters in which an official confirmed that federal border authorities were considering whether other available facilities might be able to process migrants. The official said two flights had already been used, including one from Texas to San Diego.

The official cautioned reporters that there were no flights planned to Florida "at this time," but that the agency was looking at "capacity building and contingency plans across the nation," with preference given to large ports of entry along the northern border and in coastal states.

"This is an emergency," the official said, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity. "The entire system is overwhelmed, and we are simply trying to safely get them out of our custody as quickly as possible."

By Saturday, however, DeSantis was already on the phone with Trump. According to the Republican governor, Trump told DeSantis that he "did not approve, nor would approve, sending immigrants who illegally cross the border to Florida."

By the end of the day Saturday, acting Commissioner John P. Sanders issued a statement decrying "inaccurate reports in the press" and stating "CBP has no plans to transport people in our custody to northern or coastal border facilities, which include Border Patrol stations in Florida."

PHOTO: Migrants, mostly from Central America, wait to board a van which will take them to a processing center, May 16, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants, mostly from Central America, wait to board a van which will take them to a processing center, May 16, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.

On Sunday, acting Homeland Secretary Secretary Kevin McAleenan said that the agency decided against using Florida or other states because the processing stations were too small.

"We looked at it from a planning perspective: What's prudent here?" McAleenan told told CBS' "Face the Nation." "We do have stations in Florida. We have stations on the northern border. They're very small stations. They have a few agents that are busy patrolling their areas. There wasn't going to be an effective use of resources. But yeah, we had to look at all options."

Trump on Sunday also blamed "false reporting" and declared the plan dead.

"Our Country is FULL, will not, and can not, take you in!" he tweeted.

Border authorities are likely to have little choice, however, to let the migrants in while they await for their asylum claims to be heard. U.S. law allows people to claim asylum at the border and to plead their case before an immigration judge. The Trump administration has enacted a "Remain in Mexico" policy, which has forced some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their case works its way through an overwhelmed system. But that policy has not been applied across the border and is facing legal challenges in court.