Friday, April 21, 2023

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: A Cruise Ship for Florida’s Migrant Crisis Had Nowhere to Dock (NY Times)

Performance art involving immigration is costly, yet again.  Having blown money flying immigrants from Texas to Florida to Martha's Vineyard, RONALD DION DeSANTIS, the juvenile former junior Navy officer who encumbers the Flori-DUH Governor's office, wasted  our money renting a cruise ship without securing a place to dock it.  From The  New York Times:

A Cruise Ship for Florida’s Migrant Crisis Had Nowhere to Dock

As part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s emergency response to a migrant influx in the Florida Keys, the state hired a cruise ship to house state workers. But it neglected to arrange a place to put it.

Gov. Ron DeSantis stands at a lectern. A sign behind him reads “Liberty University.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., this month.Credit...Eze Amos for The New York Times
Gov. Ron DeSantis stands at a lectern. A sign behind him reads “Liberty University.”

KEY WEST, Fla. — Nearly 1,400 migrants from Cuba and Haiti took to the sea in rickety vessels and landed in the Florida Keys in January, overwhelming the local police.

“We experienced chaos, a lack of a plan and a federal problem which became a local problem,” said the Monroe County sheriff, Rick Ramsay.

Gov. Ron DeSantis stepped in, deploying air reconnaissance planes, assembling dozens of law enforcement agents and commissioning a cruise ship to house what the administration hoped would become a local army of state employees to help handle the migrant surge.

But there was a problem: The $1 million cruise ship contract was signed before anyone realized that the vessel had nowhere to dock.

The ship was among the largest in a series of some $20 million in emergency purchases authorized by Mr. DeSantis — including drones, night vision goggles, airplane leases, aviation radios and other gear — to respond to the immigration influx.

Almost as soon as the governor declared the state of emergency, though, the landings slowed drastically, after President Biden created a much safer option of applying to enter the United States from migrants’ home countries.

Mr. DeSantis has sought to make immigration one of the focal points of his attacks on Mr. Biden as he explores the possibility of a presidential campaign in 2024. He has also backed aggressive new legislation that, if passed, would allow the state to crack down on undocumented immigrants, along with those who aid or employ them.

A small raft approaches a sailboat full of people on open waters.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with officials from local law enforcement and other agencies, approached a sailboat carrying more than two dozen Haitian migrants near Virginia Key, Fla., in January.Credit...Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A small raft approaches a sailboat full of people on open waters.

“As the negative impacts of Biden’s lawless immigration policies continue unabated, the burden of the Biden administration’s failure falls on local law enforcement,” Mr. DeSantis said in January. “We will step in to support our communities.”

But the hasty state emergency program, including the ill-fated cruise ship contract, highlights the problems that can develop when state officials intervene to help manage the borders, a role traditionally reserved for the federal government.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management acknowledged that it was forced to terminate the ship contract, but blamed the Biden administration for failing to authorize the use of U.S. Navy waterways that would have allowed the state to access an available dock.

State officials refused to say whether the state would still be obligated to pay for the ship, though several shipping experts said it would have been highly unusual for the cruise company not to collect such a large payment up front.

The crush of people who arrived in January and during several months of 2022 was the latest in a long history. For decades, Cuban and Haitian migrants, desperate to escape poverty and human rights abuses, have boarded unseaworthy vessels and landed in the Florida Keys. In 1980, more than 100,000 Cubans arrived there as part of the Mariel boatlift.

In August, the numbers of Cubans and Haitians apprehended at sea once again began to soar. By January, 5,200 migrants had landed, with another 8,400 turned back at sea.

Since the start of the fiscal year in October, 18 migrants have died during the risky ocean voyages.

Haitian migrants would sometimes come ashore in groups of several hundred and then take off running, said Sheriff Ramsay, who said he sometimes had to call in his deputies to chase migrants who had hopped into people’s yards and become “combative.”

“We’d call the Border Patrol,” Mr. Ramsay said, “and they were so overwhelmed they would say: ‘We’re so busy. We’re overwhelmed. We don’t have anybody. We can’t make it there. We can’t make it there until tomorrow.’” He added that federal agencies had since increased their staffing in the Keys. “What was I supposed to do? Leave 40 people down on the side of the road in the hot sun, no food, no water, no shelter, no diapers, for a day?”

On Jan. 6, Mr. DeSantis declared the state of emergency, a move that allowed the state to intervene without seeking bids on contracts or exercising other typical budget controls.

The federal government was already acting in other ways to stem the arrivals.

The day before Mr. DeSantis’s emergency order, Mr. Biden announced a new measure that would allow people from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua to apply from their own countries to legally travel to the United States.

A docked blue and white cruise ship at sunset. The ship reads “Ocean Navigator.”
According to state records, the state signed a $1 million contract for the Ocean Navigator, a 286-foot long ship with 101 state rooms, to house state workers as part of its response to an influx of migrants.Credit...Alamy Live News
A docked blue and white cruise ship at sunset. The ship reads “Ocean Navigator.”

Then in mid-January, the Biden administration announced that people who had entered the United States illegally by sea would not qualify for parole to remain in the country legally, a major setback for Cuban migrants in particular, as they generally received it in the past.

In late January, the state Division of Emergency Management signed a contract for the cruise ship to house the expected influx of state workers, records show.

It was the winter high season, and hotels were mostly full and very expensive.

According to Florida records, the state signed a $1 million contract for the Ocean Navigator, a 286-foot-long ship with 101 state rooms owned by American Queen Voyages. For $30,000 a day, it would house and feed 100 state workers who would work for 30 days out of Key West.

The problem, it now appears, was that state officials signed the contract before securing a place to dock the ship.

The city of Key West had recently passed an ordinance limiting the number of cruise ships in the city. The lease at the main tourism pier at Mallory Square limits cruise ships to 10 nights a year, because ships parked there block the sunset for an important nightly tourist attraction.

The assistant city manager of Key West, Todd Stoughton, huddled with Florida’s emergency management leaders to find a solution but said he could not imagine ruining the vacations of people who had saved up to see Key West’s iconic sunset.

There was another wrinkle: The Ocean Navigator is a foreign-flagged vessel, registered in the Bahamas, with crew members from all over the world. Concerns were raised about the possibility of foreign crew members jumping ship.

“The Coast Guard had a problem with this plan, big time,” Mr. Stoughton said. “Everyone wanted to know how they were going to secure that crew so they did not get off that ship. It would wind up being the opposite of what they were trying to achieve.”

The assembled officials ran through an assortment of ideas for where to put the ship. They considered anchoring it at a distance, or docking it in Miami and having the state employees commute 165 miles each way to Key West. Every plan ran into logistical problems: water was too shallow, the environment too sensitive, the distance too far.

The U.S. Coast Guard refused to allow the use of its Key West pier because the Coast Guard’s role as the commercial vessel’s regulating authority could create a conflict of interest, said Lt. Cmdr. John W. Beal, a spokesman.

The city of Key West had another pier the state could have borrowed, but, to use it, the foreign-flagged ship would need to pass through 300 feet of waterway that belonged to the Navy, and the Department of Defense refused because specialized training takes place nearby, Alecia Collins, a spokeswoman for the Florida emergency management division, said in a statement.

Two people walk through a grassy parking lot filled with law enforcement vehicles and next to two large temporary buildings.
A base camp in Islamorada. Florida is spending $2 million a month to house state workers at one of two camps quickly erected in the Keys.Credit...Frances Robles/The New York Times
Two people walk through a grassy parking lot filled with law enforcement vehicles and next to two large temporary buildings.

“The real question you should be asking for your story is why the Department of Defense chooses now and this specific request from the state of Florida,” she said, noting that the Navy had allowed other foreign-flagged ships at that location.

Lt. Cmdr. James Adams, a Navy spokesman, acknowledged that during unofficial discussions with the state, the Navy had raised potential, possibly prohibitive problems with accessing Navy waterways. But the state never submitted an official request in writing, as was required by law to move forward, he said, and the discussions were effectively at an end.

The cruise ship was en route from the Carolinas to Florida when permission to dock in Key West was denied, so it was rerouted to the Port of Miami, Ms. Collins said. Port of Miami records show that it stayed there for two weeks in February, running up $31,000 in port fees while nobody used it.

State records show a second contract from March — after the docking problems emerged — for $645,000, but it was unclear whether the state would pay that additional sum.

James Bujeda, the deputy director of the emergency management division who dealt with Key West city officials on the issue, referred questions on payments to Ms. Collins, who repeatedly declined to answer.

Cindy D’Aoust, the president of American Queen Voyages, released a statement that said only that the company “will not be providing” the cruise ship services.

The state workers are now being housed at one of two camps quickly erected in the Florida Keys, at a cost to the state of $2 million a month.

But the need for their work is now in question. Border Patrol data shows just 328 migrants arrived in Florida in February.

Who can take credit for the steep decline is the subject of debate. Immigration experts say the policy moves made by the Biden administration in January were the key factors, and the Department of Homeland Security, in a statement, endorsed that view.

“The Biden-Harris administration’s processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans — coupled with enhanced enforcement — have significantly reduced irregular migration, which has saved lives and is cutting out the smugglers,” the statement said.

The agency declined to discuss the sheriff’s claims that for months, federal authorities did not have sufficient staffing to respond to the crisis.

Mr. DeSantis has said that the increased air reconnaissance missions by state agencies deserve credit.

“Because of our action, we have seen a drop in the number of vessels and people able to make landing in the Florida Keys, and our continued presence serves as a deterrent for illegal immigration,” Mr. DeSantis said.

If the crisis was over, it was not over entirely.

This week, the Coast Guard turned back passengers of a boat that was spotted about 12 miles from Cay Sal Bank in the Bahamas. There were 27 Cubans on it.

Frances Robles is a Florida-based correspondent who also covers Puerto Rico and Central America. Her investigation of a Brooklyn homicide detective led to more than a dozen murder convictions being overturned and won a George Polk award. @FrancesRobles  Facebook

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

DeSantis experiencing a full blown assault by Trump and the religious whackos in the legislature. Same people he coddled now behaving as hogs. If he had any sense, he wouldn't have signed their whacko legislation and he would be attacking Trump mercilessly. Might as well if Trump will be the end of your political career.