Florida officials are demanding answers about a Department of Homeland Security plan to send 1,000 "unlawful immigrants and asylum-seekers" a month to two heavily Democratic counties.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and a close ally of President Donald Trump, called the plan "not acceptable," and said it might not be enacted.
"I'm going to be addressing this," he told reporters on Friday.
"Nothing's concrete," DeSantis said. "This is not something that came down from the White House. This was something that came out of the agencies."
An official with Customs and Border Protection, the DHS agency that local law-enforcement says told them the asylum seekers would be brought to the state within weeks, told reporters Friday there may have been some miscommunication, and no such move was imminent.
The agency acknowledged Friday it is looking at releasing immigrants in communities along the northern border and on the coast, where there is already a border patrol presence.
On Thursday, CBP had declined comment on the plan, referring questions to Homeland Security, which did not respond to questions from reporters — or area lawmakers.
In a letter to acting DHS boss Kevin McAleenan on Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he was told about the plan "to transport approximately 500 migrants per month from El Paso, Texas, to both Broward and Palm Beach Counties for release pending an asylum hearing" from local law-enforcement.
"Does the Department intend to transport migrants currently in custody at the southern border to states that do not share a border with Mexico?" Rubio asked, referring to the entrants as "unlawful immigrants and asylum-seekers." "If so, why?"
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Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said they were informed of the basics of the plan this week by border patrol operations in Miami, but had not been able to get any specifics.
"The composition, according to what we were told, were supposed to be family units. We don't know what that means. We don't know if that means a 15 year old, a mother and a father, or a 5 year old and a mother, or just a father and a child," he told reporters.
"What kind of health conditions do they have?" Bradshaw asked. "What are they going do when they get here?"
He said there appears to be no plan in place by the feds for what happens to the migrants after they're processed at immigration facilities. He said CBP plans "to give them a notice to appear to come to a hearing at some later date, and then release them into the community. No accommodations for transportation leaving there, no accommodations for shelter or a place to live, just no real plan on what's going to happen to these 500 people."
He said charitable resources in the area are already stretched thin. "We have a homeless problem, we're dealing with a Hepatitis A outbreak, we're dealing with measles outbreaks," Bradshaw said.
Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said, "We will do everything possible to help these people," but added, “this is irresponsible policy. To bring hundreds of people here every week without providing the necessary resources to house and feed them is inhumane."
"If the president will not provide us with financial assistance to house and feed these people, he will be creating a homeless encampment,” Bogen said.
Rep. Ted Deutsch, D-Fla., said Congress has been kept in the dark.
"There's a stunning amount of confusion surrounding the Administration's outrageous immigration policy, even more today than usual," he said. "I hesitate saying more about these reports because no one in the Administration seems to know what is happening."
While Florida voted for Trump in 2016, the two counties that would be impacted by the plan are Democratic strongholds that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. State voter data shows Broward County has 600,365 registered Democrats and 254,012 registered Republicans. Palm Beach County — home to Trump's "Winter White House," Mar-a-Lago — has 398,166 Democrats and 268,011 Republicans.
Last month, the president said he was "giving very strong consideration" to a plan to bus detained immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities as a way of retaliating against Democrats for blocking his efforts to change the country's "very dangerous immigration laws."
"We'll bring them to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it," Trump told reporters at the White House. "They say we have open arms, they're always saying they have open arms, let's see if they have open arms."
Trump made the statement after it was reported that DHS had considered such a plan but rejected because it was "so illegal."
Neither Broward nor Palm Beach counties are "sanctuary" areas that limit cooperation with immigration authorities, and a bill banning such areas in the state was approved by the state legislature earlier this month. DeSantis is expected to sign it.
The CBP official who spoke with reporters Friday said the agency is not considering whether or not the areas they're sending migrants to are sanctuary cities — only whether they have the capacity to temporarily detain, process and release them.
DeSantis said a large influx of asylum-seekers in any part of the state would put a strain on state and local services, and that he would talk to Trump about the issue if necessary.
"This I would think would cause a lot of stress on our communities," the governor said. "We have a lot of fish to fry with our own state and our own citizens."
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., an outspoken Trump critic, said in a statement, "Voters won’t like this attempt to manufacture crises in our communities and drain already strained resources, nor will they forget it when they head to the polls next year. Building encampments on the grounds of his beloved Mar-a-Lago, however, is something they likely can get behind."