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Originally published on May 17, 2019 5:46 pm
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Overwhelmed by the number of migrant families crossing the southwest border, federal officials are looking at transporting them to communities across the nation. One option had been to send the migrants to South Florida to be processed and then released until their day in immigration court. But state and local officials were livid. They said they didn't have the resources to care for these families. Tonight, Customs and Border Protection says in a statement that there are no plans at this time to follow through on that plan.

Now to help sort this out, we have NPR's Greg Allen. He's on the line from Miami. And Greg, will Florida begin seeing migrants flown in from the southwest border or not?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, based on the information we got today from the Customs and Border Protection, it looks possible, but it's not clear, you know, if or when it would happen. You know, this whole thing started on Monday when sheriff's in Broward County and Palm Beach County heard from a local CBP official who told them there were plans to begin sending a planeload of migrants, at least one planeload every week of migrants from the El Paso area. That would be about 270 people a week, split between the two counties.

You know, for a little background here, there's been this surge of migrants since the beginning of the year at the border, and that's overwhelmed the government's ability to process them. Of course, even shelters are very full there and other social services. Earlier today, though, Customs and Border Protection said it's now transporting migrant families to places around the country, where they can be processed, and tonight they said they're looking at expanding that capacity, looking for places where they can process the families. But at this time, they said, we're not transporting migrants to Florida.

CORNISH: Will this alleviate concerns, though, on the local and state officials there?

ALLEN: That's really unclear. You know, if there's clarity on this, it will, for sure. But the reaction here has run the gamut since it began because people were taken by surprise. They didn't really know about this until they kind of - it kind of percolated up through the sheriff's offices. Some people here are welcoming. Some officials say their counties are welcoming. But if we're going to have, you know, migrants, immigrants, with or without papers come here, let's have them come in an orderly, planned way. And there's been very little communication with officials here about this on the local level or the state level.

Even the congressional delegations - Senators Rubio and Senator Scott were taken by surprise by this. Even Governor Ron DeSantis, who's, you know, a big Trump ally - he was elected in large part with the president's help - he's been angry about this, and he said he'll talk to the president, and that he opposes the move.

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RON DESANTIS: We cannot accommodate in Florida just dumping the unlawful migrants into our state. I think it'll tax our resources, the schools, the health care, law enforcement, state agencies.

CORNISH: This isn't the first time Florida has seen an influx of migrants, right? If you think back to the Mariel boatlift, that brought tens of thousands of Cubans to South Florida. Could it really handle a thousand migrants a month?

ALLEN: You know, officials here, Audie, say they have contingency plans for when migrants show up in Florida - that kind of boatlift thing. You know, they watch the border for this kind of thing. But they say those plans always involve turning to the federal government for help, not having the federal government basically instigate the crisis by bringing people here. And so, you know, there's a lot of concerns here about public health and safety. There - we hear about - they don't know if there's shelter space available, who's going to feed these people when they arrive. And they'll be overstretching the region's very strained safety net. Here's Broward Mayor Mark Bogen, what he had to say.

MARK BOGEN: This is really an inhumane act that the president is doing. It's irresponsible policy. Usually, you've got to have a plan; you have an organized plan to deal with people. But to just bring people to a county with no plan, no money, no resources, what he's going to create is a homeless tent encampment.

CORNISH: One last thing - why Florida in the first place?

ALLEN: You know, not really clear. You know, other places that migrants are being taken to are much closer to the border, you know, mostly places like Texas and Southern California. There's some suspicion it has to do with politics. You know, President Trump recently said he would - was thinking about sending migrants to so-called sanctuary communities. But Broward and Palm Beach say that doesn't apply to them, and in fact, the state recently passed a law banning sanctuary cities and requiring officials to cooperate with immigration authorities.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.