TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The United States Coast Guard said the risks taken by migrants coming to the United States by water are “unfathomable” to most American citizens. According to new data numbers from the Florida Department of Emergency Management, more than 1,000 migrants have been apprehended since Jan. 6.
From severe weather and drowning risks to “general unpredictability” of traveling by water, USCG said those coming to the U.S. are using boats in dangerous conditions to escape their home countries and ignoring real risks.
According to officials, migrant interdiction is one of 11 missions assigned to the USCG by Congress, allowing the military service to “take the lead” during an “ongoing and historic migrant surge.”
To accomplish this, The Department of Homeland Security established a security task force in 2003, and in 2004, Operation Vigilant Sentry began, focusing on the Caribbean corridor. The stated goal of Operation Vigilant Sentry is “to protect the safety of life at sea, and to deter and dissuade a maritime mass migration with our federal, state and local partners.”
In 2023, the migrant surge to areas like the Florida Keys from Cuba, Haiti, and other areas has led to an influx of people fleeing their homes to “escape poverty, violence, human trafficking, and persecution are a few realities,” according to Cmdr. Ray Caro, the operation’s chief of intelligence.
Caro said the “the frequency at which these challenges present themselves is certainly increasing. Politics, migration policies and natural disasters amplify those realities and trigger migration.”
On Jan. 6, Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida National Guard via executive order to respond to the surge of migrants. FDEM is working with the Florida National Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol to respond and “increase coastal vigilance” amid the ongoing migrant activities.
The Florida Department of Emergency Management mobilized in early January for what state officials call an influx of migrants arriving in the Florida Keys. As of Jan. 26, FDEM said 152 migrant vessels have been removed from Dry Tortugas and the Lower Keys, and 146 packages of cocaine, worth $2.3 million, have been found washing ashore.
WFLA.com reached out to Florida officials for an update on the migrant surge in Florida. The department said that since DeSantis signed the order declaring a State of Emergency in response “to the influx of migrant activity along the Florida coastline there have been more than 1,060 apprehended.”
Response to the migrant influx has been a combination of federal and state effort, but the two levels of government involved have taken issue with each others’ approaches to the problem.
Regardless, the migrants are still coming, with hundreds already landing ashore or afloat in the Florida Keys in early January and more continuing to arrive. The Coast Guard said the migrants are coming even as boats take on water, come overcrowded, or without even having a true vessel to make it to land.
“These individuals are ignoring real risks,” Chief Warrant Officer Matthew James, Coast Guard Station Islamorada’s commanding officer, said. “Just about every vessel we encounter in these voyages were constructed haphazardly with improvised materials and were taking on water. The few vessels that appeared to be well built were dangerously overloaded and capsizing was imminent when we arrived on scene. It’s very dangerous to try and cross the Florida Straits this way.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has criticized DeSantis and Florida’s response on multiple occasions, calling it more of a political stunt than a solution, while DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody have blamed the crisis on the Biden administration’s policy directives, with DeSantis calling federal responses “inept.”
Since October 2022, when the new fiscal year started, USCG said they had already interdicted more than 7,000 migrants.
- Florida Coast Guard transports 68 migrants to Cuba after 4 vessels located
- Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park closed after 300 migrants land over weekend
- Hundreds of migrants in Florida in what sheriff calls ‘crisis’
- 396 Haitian migrants detained on 50-foot boat near Bahamas
- 2 cruise ships rescue more migrants off Florida coast
- Sailboat with another 200 migrants lands in Florida Keys
A more definitive picture of border crossings and interdictions for the start of 2023 will be available from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in February, with the January monthly report.