As more migrant boats keep arriving, Keys responders find themselves stretched thin

It was early December, and Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay had had it with the federal government’s response to what he considered a “humanitarian crisis” as more and more migrants arrived by boat in the Florida Keys.

“The mass migration is depleting critical staff from doing their assigned duties of protecting, responding, investigating and patrolling our communities,” he said at the time.

Every day, it seemed, more and more people, usually from Cuba and sometimes from Haiti, arrived in overloaded boats. Ramsay’s 203 road patrol deputies lacked the jurisdiction to do much more than stand on the side of U.S. 1 and wait for U.S. Border Patrol agents to arrive to shuttle the new arrivals away for processing on the mainland.

But, between receiving the “refugee arrival” calls, responding to them and then waiting around, his deputies were being pulled away from their jobs dealing with local crime.

“Each landing requires resources being diverted from other critical missions and requires sometimes many officers depending upon the number of migrants, their cooperative or less than cooperative demeanor, as well as if they are grouped together or running through citizens’ properties,” Ramsay told the Miami Herald at the time.

James Callahan, chief of Monroe County Fire Rescue, said his firefighters and medics have had to respond to several landings since the holidays. He said his department of 145 members, working at 10 stations throughout the county, has transported more than 20 migrants to area hospitals in recent weeks with various medical conditions.

The Keys has for decades been on the receiving end of migrant trips from Cuba and Haiti, but the U.S. Border Patrol reported last month that maritime migration in the region has skyrocketed since the beginning of October. Yet at the time, the state and feds offered no relief to local agencies like the sheriff’s office.

“The government will not call this mass migration, but when migration is up to over 600% increase, we call it a mass migration,” Ramsay said.

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