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Trump plans to release thousands of migrants in two Democratic strongholds, Florida officials say

President Donald Trump in the White House Rose Garden on May 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

Florida officials are raising alarm and pressing for details about the purported intention of the Trump administration to send hundreds of immigrants a week to two heavily Democratic counties in South Florida.

Customs and Border Protection has not publicly disclosed its plans. But a partial picture of a new approach to managing a record influx of immigrants at the southern border came into view on Thursday, May 16, based on the accounts of local leaders in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Even allies of the president were nonplussed. The state's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, joined federal lawmakers from Florida - Republicans and Democrats alike - in questioning the apparent effort to foist the immigration and asylum burden on two local jurisdictions without equipping them with the resources to house, feed, educate and protect new arrivals.

"We want a better plan from our federal government," Palm Beach County Mayor Mack Bernard, a Haitian-born Democrat, said at a news conference. "We are not a border state."

As arrests at the border continue to increase - threatening to derail the immigration agenda that has formed the cornerstone of President Trump's domestic policy - South Florida officials said they have been told to expect the arrival twice a week of 135 asylum seekers, rerouted from the El Paso area. That is equivalent to about 1,000 people per month, divided between the two counties.

Law enforcement briefed on the plans said the arrivals were set to begin within the next two weeks and that no end date had been set. They said they still hoped federal authorities would reverse course.

Neither Border Protection nor its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, returned a request for comment.

The alarm was sounded by officials in Florida on the same day that Trump publicly appealed to Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, primarily by prioritizing the skills of newcomers. The trepidation, however, came in response to developments behind the scenes, several weeks after Trump embraced a strategy of filling sanctuary cities with immigrants who lack papers. He called the proposition, rejected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as inappropriate, his "sick idea."

Broward and Palm Beach Counties lie next to one another on the state's Atlantic coast. Neither has sanctuary status limiting cooperation with immigration authorities - a status that would be outlawed under a measure recently advanced by the state legislature.

But the counties are among Florida's most reliably Democratic jurisdictions, leading the president's critics to speculate that he was setting his punitive program into motion.

"The blatant politics, sending them to the two most Democratic Counties in the state of Florida, is ridiculous," Gary Farmer, a Democratic state senator representing part of Broward County, told Politico. "You can't make this stuff up."

Each of the counties has a sizable Hispanic population, though not as large as in Miami-Dade, which is the state's most populous county. Miami-Dade is also a center of the state's Republican-aligned Cuban voting bloc, which delivered for Trump in 2016.

The swath of South Florida comprising Broward and Palm Beach counties is host to a number of Border Patrol stations, including one in West Palm Beach where authorities said the migrants would be processed, given a notice to appear and then released.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said at a news conference on Thursday, May 16, that he had been informed of the plans earlier this week by a Border Patrol chief based in Miami. Bradshaw said the migrants were characterized to him as "family units."

Having conveyed his concerns to members of Florida's congressional delegation, the law enforcement officer said he had a call in to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to raise objections to what he knew of the approach.

"No accommodations for shelter or a place to live," Bradshaw said. "Just no real plan on what's going to happen to these 500 people every month that's going to come to Palm Beach County and be released into our community."

The sheriff said he was worried about the criminal backgrounds of the immigrants, as well as about the ability of public and charitable institutions to cope with the new arrivals. "We think it's a danger to this community," he said.

Broward County Mayor Mark D. Bogen, a Democrat and a practicing attorney, framed the issue differently, warning of a "humanitarian crisis."

"We will do everything possible to help these people," he said in a news release. "If the President will not provide us with financial assistance to house and feed these people, he will be creating a homeless encampment."

Citing the president's threat to "send people who illegally cross the border to communities that are considered immigrant friendly," the mayor called the plans "inhumane." And he issued a threat of his own, saying that the county should bring those who couldn't find shelter "to the Trump hotels and ask the President to open his heart and home as well."

Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is located in Palm Beach County.

Local officials stressed that they had not been consulted before the plans were announced to them. They said they had not yet taken any formal action to resist the burden, but Palm Beach County's mayor said it was possible an emergency would need to be declared to free up the necessary resources. He envisioned a scenario in which tent encampments would be required.

State and federal officials also weighed in. An aide to DeSantis, who is a close ally of the president's, told Florida public radio that the governor's office had not been informed of the decision. "Florida counties do not have the resources to accommodate an influx of illegal immigrants," the aide said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter on Thursday to Kevin McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, asking him to respond to nine questions "prior to authorizing or scheduling" any movements of migrants into the two counties. The questions addressed the rationale for the movements, as well as their scope. The lawmaker asked whether federal authorities had coordinated with local officials to ready the communities for new arrivals.

Democrats in Congress representing the two counties, including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, also said they had asked the administration to clarify its plans.

Unease about the idea united factions of various ideological stripes, underscoring the president's failure to marshal support for his immigration agenda on either side of the aisle. Ann Coulter, the far-right commentator and onetime Trump booster, said the Florida reroute would give the president a new reelection slogan: "The Border Crisis. Coming to a City Near you!"

Author Information:

Isaac Stanley-Becker

This article was written by ____, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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