Jan 2, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Arrival of 300 migrants prompts closure of national park

Tourists walk along the sea wall surrounding Fort Jefferson Feb. 15, 2016, at Dry Tortugas National Park Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images

An isolated national park off the coast of Key West is temporarily closed after the arrival of around 300 migrants — largely from Cuba — landed on the cluster of remote islands over the weekend, officials said.

Why it matters: Cubans have been fleeing their homeland this year in the greatest numbers since 1980, as the nation faces its most severe economic crisis in decades, officials crack down on anti-government protests, and people live through daily food and fuel shortages.

Driving the news: The National Park Service said in a statement that it was closing Dry Tortugas National Park to the public Monday morning so law enforcement and medical personnel could “evaluate, provide care for and coordinate transport to Key West for approximately 300 migrants who arrived in the park over the past couple of days."

  • "The closure, which is expected to last several days, is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff because of the resources and space needed to attend to the migrants," the statement added.
  • "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 statement said. "Park first responders provide food, water and basic medical attention until the Department of Homeland Security arrives and takes the lead."
  • The Homeland Security Task Force tweeted that it is “coordinating efforts to recover those currently stranded” on the remote islands. Federal agents will then determine the migrants' legal status and whether they will be deported, the task force said.

The big picture: Chief Border Patrol Agent Walter Slosar said at midday Sunday that agents and police had responded to 10 migrant landings in the Florida Keys since midnight on New Year’s Day.

  • Slosar said that by afternoon, more than 160 migrants had been "encountered."
  • Locals have been dropping off food and water to the Cuban migrants as they wait for Border Patrol, per the Miami Herald — a pattern seen in Martha’s Vineyard and outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in recent months.
  • The Supreme Court forced the Biden administration to keep Title 42 — a pandemic-era border policy — in place last week. The policy has allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants and asylum seekers at the border. 

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