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As Biden Policies Take Effect, South Florida Expecting 'Large Number' Of Migrants And Refugees

Cubans At Mexican Border.jpeg
Miami Herald
Cuban migrants sleeping in a small camp on the side of the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on July 30, 2019. Cubans make up the largest number of asylum seekers stuck at the Mexican border.

Cubans make up the largest group of migrants seeking asylum who are currently stuck at the Mexican border under a Trump Administration policy. As President Biden undoes the policies of his predecessor, many are soon expected to arrive in South Florida.

Tens of thousands of migrants have been stuck on the Mexican border under the Trump Administration’s Migrant Protections Protocol program — popularly known as the "Remain in Mexico" policy.

The policy mandated that asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border had to wait in Mexico for processing and was created as a way to dissuade migrants from "taking advantage of U.S. law," according to the Department of Homeland Security.

President Biden ended that policy the first day he came into office, and last Friday the federal government slowly started processing the migrants and allowing them into the U.S.

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A large number of them are expected to come to South Florida. That's because among the thousands living in camps on the Mexican side of the border are Cubans, Haitians and others from Latin America and the Caribbean who have family here.

Cubans in particular make up the largest group of migrants seeking asylum who are currently stuck at the Mexican border, our news partners at the Miami Herald reported.

WLRN's Daniel Rivero spoke with Maureen Porras, the director of immigration legal services at Church World Service, about the expected uptick of refugees and migrants into South Florida. The group assists with refugee resettlements in our region.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

WLRN: Can you give us an update of what's happening now on the U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands of migrants have been stuck on the Mexican side of the border under the Trump administration's so-called remain in Mexico policy? What's happening with that right now?

PORRAS: We saw earlier in the year that the Biden Administration suspended the MPP, otherwise known as "Remain in Mexico," which is the Migrant Protection Protocols program, and they're supposed to start registering and admitting individuals that were part of the program.

They are experiencing some delays with getting the website — the registration website — live. But they should be taking care of that pretty soon. We're expecting that they're going to increase the number of people allowed into the U.S. as they roll out phase one.

Do we have any idea how letting some of these migrants into the U.S. might affect South Florida?

It's estimated that there will be a large number of individuals that will, after their process, will actually reach South Florida as one of the main destinations for most of these individuals.

They're also going to reach other cities, such as cities in New York, cities in California. So we'll definitely see an influx and an increased number of immigrants and new border arrivals in South Florida.

Are there any numerical estimates that we are working with at the time, or is this just kind of a general expected uptick?

We're not really sure exactly how many will be arriving in South Florida.

But just to give you an idea, there's about 25,000 to 30,000 of them right now under the program that are supposed to be let in.

Obviously, South Florida has a long history of accepting refugees and migrants, especially from countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, is the expected uptick really significant or is it more or less an expected return to how things were before the Trump Administration took steps to slow down and discourage this kind of migration?

I would definitely describe it as returning to its normal numbers. We here in South Florida, we were receiving for many, many years Cuban migrants. And we were also assisting them with resettling them and actually relocating them across the U.S.

We've had years where we assisted over 4,000 refugees, and that's just one office.

The influx slowed down during the last four years because of several limiting, and restrictive, immigration policies that we had in place. And because of that, we did also lose some offices and funding.

We're very much looking forward to all the different changes and to getting back out there and being a nation that accepts immigrants and to restore that dignity back to our immigrant population in our country. So we're just very excited and we're looking forward to all the changes.

When you mentioned that the funding was slashed under the Trump administration years, was that funding coming from the federal government?

Yes, funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Since the admission of refugees was decreased, there was no funding associated with that.

So we are hoping that funding is appropriated for this purpose that we can also use to expand the services that we currently provide.

Have you communicated with the state of Florida or local governments on how they are preparing for this expected uptick?

We do work closely with the Florida Department of Children and Families, the refugee program, and we have been preparing. We do monthly meetings. We do bi-monthly meetings as well. And everyone is just monitoring the situation and we're all getting together to provide and help as much as we can.