Illegal Aliens Overwhelm Officials in the Florida Keys, Prompt Closure of National Park

By Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson is a reporter based in Australia. Contact him on
January 2, 2023Updated: January 3, 2023

Some 500 illegal immigrants have landed on islands in the Florida Keys in the last several days, prompting officials to close the Dry Tortugas National Park on Sunday.

“During the past 72 hours, [Border Patrol] agents have responded to a high volume of migrant landings in the [Florida Keys],” U.S. Border Patrol Chief Agent Walter Slosar said on Twitter Monday. 

The most recent wave of illegal immigration is fueled by economic turmoil, food shortages, and soaring inflation in Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean.

The National Park Service said Sunday it was closing the Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles west of the Key West, to public access, including suspending ferries and seaplane services, while police and medical personnel evaluate and provide care and transport for the illegal aliens arriving from Cuba.

The national park is expected to be closed for days, which officials said was necessary for the safety of visitors and staff because of the resources and space needed to attend to the illegal aliens.

“Like elsewhere in the Florida Keys, the park has recently seen an increase in people arriving by boat from Cuba and landing on the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park,” the National Park Service’s statement said. “Park first responders provide food, water and basic medical attention until the Department of Homeland Security arrives and takes the lead.”

“While the park is closed, vessels may seek safe harbor in the designated areas within the one nautical mile anchoring zone around Garden Key, including Bird Key Harbor,” the statement continued. “There will be no visitor services available while the closure is in effect, and emergency services will be extremely limited.”

‘Federal Failure’

In a statement on Monday, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay criticized the slow federal response to the spike in arrivals, saying they were stretching local resources.

Ramsay said federal authorities informed his office of a delay in getting federal resources to some of the illegal immigrants, which Ramsay’s office indicated would aggravate what was becoming a “humanitarian crisis.”

“Refugee arrivals require a lot of resources from the Sheriff’s Office as we help our federal law enforcement partners ensure the migrants are in good health and safe,” Ramsay said. “Residents may see an increased amount of law enforcement and emergency responders throughout the county as we continue to respond to these landings.”

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said that more than 160 illegal aliens landed mostly in the Middle and Upper Keys, as well 300 on the Marquesas Keys and at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.

Further, the statement said that a delay in federal resources would aggravate the mass illegal immigration crisis in the Keys.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said U.S. Border Patrol informed them that some landings may have to wait for federal resources to arrive until the following day.

“This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable,” Ramsay said.

In addition to landings at the national park over the weekend, Slosar first stated on New Year’s Eve that agents and police had responded to five illegal immigrant landings in the Florida Keys, involving around 88 Cubans. The next day, he reported that police and agents encountered a further 10 landings involving over 160 illegal immigrants.

Officials at Dry Tortugas National Park said the park would be closed for several days due to the amount of space and resources required to care for the illegal immigrants. The national park is located at the southernmost point of the continental United States and is popular with scuba divers and snorkelers due to its coral reefs, nesting sea turtles, tropical fish, and shipwrecks.

Local, state, and federal authorities have been working together to recover and process the illegal aliens who were stranded on the remote, uninhabited islands partway between Cuba and Key West, according to Homeland Security Taskforce, Southeast (HSTF-SE).

“They will be removed, provided food, water & basic first aid before transfer to federal LE agents in the Keys for processing by [Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar] to determine their legal status to remain in the United States or be processed for removal and repatriation to their country of origin,” HSTF-SE said on Twitter.

“Irregular, illegal maritime migration is always dangerous and very often deadly. #DontTakeToTheSeas,” said Rear Adm. Brendan C. McPherson, director of HSTF-SE and commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District.

Border Patrol and Coast Guard crews patrolling South Florida and the Keys have seen the largest increase in illegal boat migrations in nearly a decade, with hundreds of people intercepted in recent months, mostly from Cuba and Haiti.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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