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Sen. Rick Scott visits Keys to review local, federal efforts to stem migrant crisis

Rick Scott immigration Marathon press conference
Rebecca Blackwell
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AP
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla, speaks during a press conference on immigration and border security, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Marathon, Fla.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19

Sen. Rick Scott, who traveled to Marathon on Thursday to talk to local officials about the continuing migrant arrivals in South Florida, cast blame on the Biden administration for not doing more to bolster border security.

The Republican senator told reporters at a news conference that the administration "has completely abandoned" local and federal law enforcement authorities, according to a statement released by his U.S. Senate office.

Scott met with U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson and Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay to learn about the latest efforts to stem the tide of mostly Cuban and Haitian migrants attempting to illegally enter the United States.

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Scott has long been critical of the Biden administration's border security policies.

Sen. Rick Scott, (R-Fl
Sen. Rick Scott Senate office website
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U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
Sen. Rick Scott was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018.

"Biden’s broken border has brought this crisis to Florida’s doorstep," Scott wrote in a January 13 op-ed in the Miami Herald.

Scott contends that "an open border benefits Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, which engage with cartels to illegally traffic drugs and innocent people, including children, across the U.S. border."

"The president should listen to my fellow Floridians, especially those who have lived through and escaped the oppression in Cuba and other dictatorships," wrote Scott. "He should heed our calls to secure the border and end his shameful appeasement agenda that is threatening America’s national security. It is standing in the way of progress and stability in the hemisphere.”

The White House has defended its border security strategy, noting that the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities are deploying additional personnel and resources to Florida "to quickly process individuals and place them in removal proceedings."

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that the administration's newest program aimed at migrants from a handful of countries is taking effect with newly arrived immigrants being vetted and approved for temporary U.S. residency.

The administration announced Jan. 5 that the U.S. government would accept 30,000 people per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who arrive legally, have eligible sponsors and pass background checks. The goal of the new policy is to discourage illegal immigration by sea and land, and encourage a safer alternative and a pathway to residency.

Jean-Pierre said Congress must take action on immigration reform. "The President has done what he can from the White House," she said.

"Again, Congress needs to act. Republicans need to act. And if they really care about this issue, this is an opportunity to reach across the aisle and work with us on this," she added.

Cuban migrants at sea january 16 2023.jpg
U.S. Coast Guard
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U..S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard officials apprehended these unidentified Cuban migrants on January 8, 2023, in the Atlantic Ocean about 10 miles east of Sunny Isles, Florida. They were repatriated to Cuba on Jan. 16, 2023, Coast Guard officials said.

Roots of migrant crisis

Amid rampant inflation and deteriorating economic conditions in their home countries, thousands of Cuban and Haitian migrants have attempted the risky Florida Straits crossing in recent months to illegally enter the Florida Keys and other parts of the state.

The spike among Cubans has been especially pronounced. Since Oct. 1, 2022, the Coast Guard has interdicted more than 4,900 Cuban migrants at sea, as compared with more than 6,100 Cubans intercepted during all of fiscal 2022, which ended Sept. 30, according to Coast Guard officials.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, recently resumed processing migrant visas, and said this week that some initial Cuban applicants already had been accepted under the new parole. In the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, would-be applicants have flocked an immigration office in recent days to apply for passports needed for the U.S. program.

Associated Press reporters Curt Anderson and Marta Lavandier contributed to this article.