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With Haiti in turmoil, Florida braces for violent criminals attempting illegal entry

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(The Center Square) – With Haiti in political turmoil and in light of current federal border policies, Florida, which has historically borne the brunt of illegal entry by sea from Cuba and Haiti, is bracing for impact.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday deployed additional state law enforcement and emergency resources to Florida’s southern coast. On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, received assurances from the Department of Defense that it would provide assistance in the Straits of Florida.

Haiti’s prime minister stepped down Tuesday after the country’s notorious “G9 and Family” gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, known as “Barbecue,” threatened to commit more violence if he didn’t. In a short announcement posted on Facebook, Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced his resignation and said his government would dissolve after a transitional council was established. His resignation came after a week of “systematic looting and destruction of public buildings and private buildings,” he said after he defied a Feb. 7 ultimatum by Barbecue.

Barbecue’s gang orchestrated a jailbreak releasing violent criminals into the capital, causing widespread violence. His gang reportedly controls 80% of Haiti’s capital. Henry was the acting prime minister since the previous prime minister, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in July 2021 by alleged Columbian mercenaries.

Chaos in Haiti erupted as a federal judge in Texas ruled that a parole program created by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas could continue. Mayorka’s policy includes releasing an additional 30,000 Haitians into the U.S. a month who would otherwise not be allowed admittance. DHS currently has no capability to determine if those entering the country are criminals, current and retired Border Patrol agents have told The Center Square.

In light of the fact that U.S. Border Patrol agents, the U.S. Coast Guard, and local and state law enforcement agencies continue to respond to migrants landing in southern Florida, primarily from Cuba and Haiti, Gaetz asked Defense Department officials what their plan was to deal with a mass influx of Haitians.

At a Tuesday House Armed Services Committee hearing, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs, Rebecca Zimmerman acknowledged that federal officials were anticipating a mass migration of Haitians potentially into Florida. General Laura Richardson, the commander of United States Southern Command, also confirmed she will consider providing naval resources to the Straits of Florida to help with interdiction efforts.

At the hearing, Gaetz said, “So what’s the difference between Haiti and a failed state? It’s telling, right, we can’t really identify because the gangs are in charge, the government has been thrown out. And as a Florida man, I’m deeply concerned about this wave of people that we’re about to have that we are having coming from Haiti, and it will accelerate.”

Gaetz asked Zimmerman and Richardson, “What are we doing to prepare for that wave, and to ensure that these people are not paroled into the United States, as the administration has done with people on the southern border, but instead, are repatriated back at the dock at Port au Prince?”

Zimmerman replied they were “doing a number of things to ensure that we’re keeping track of the situation and we’re prepared. At the moment, we have not yet seen large numbers, what we would characterize as maritime mass migration. … We are alert to that possibility … that the driving conditions in Haiti could very well press more people” to come to the U.S.

Gaetz said he had spoken with Coast Guard officials who welcomed the support of naval vessels. He also implored DOD officials to use an authorization established by former President George W. Bush in 2002. It states that if a president declares a state of emergency due to a mass migration of Haitians, the DOD has the ability to offer naval assistance to the U.S. Coast Guard to interdict and repatriate migrants at sea. This includes authorizing gray haul naval vessels to operate in the Straits of Florida.

Gaetz asked Richardson if it was her “best military advice based on what we just heard from Zimmerman, that we activate the authorities anticipating a mass migration.”

Richardson said she had “put in a request for increased capability to do exactly that.” She also said the DOD was “ready … if we need to deal with a mass migration. We did a full walkthrough of our contingency plan on Gitmo last summer, with all of the interagency and all of my components.”

Gaetz replied that Haitians don’t need to be sent to Gitmo “where they become a burden on the U.S. taxpayer. We can interdict … and then repatriate directly at Port au Prince.”

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