‘It’s going to get worse’: Migrant crisis costs Florida Keys taxpayers

KEY LARGO, Fla. – Immigration may be a federal issue, but local taxpayers in the Florida Keys are footing some of the bills amid the onslaught of migrants arriving in the island chain.

Monroe County officials say the unending migrant landings, mostly made up of Cubans and Haitians escaping difficult circumstances in their respective countries, are straining their resources.

For instance, sheriff’s deputes must respond to each landing and wait for federal agents to arrive.

But the biggest cost is the removal of the derelict vessels migrants arrive on. Officials said the county expects to spend up to $400,000 this year just to to remove those boats.

Last year, officials said the county spent $60,000 in taxpayer money to remove 49 vessels.

Just this month, they expect to use $250,000 in state grant money to remove seven boats.

“We only feel that it’s going to get worse,” Monroe County Mayor Craig Cates said.

Cates, along with Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi, spoke to Local 10 News on Wednesday.

Both men echoed concerns from county Sheriff Rick Ramsay, who spoke to Local 10 News earlier in the week.

“(It’s) mostly in the sheriff’s office,” Gastesi said. “They’re working very hard. They have to respond to these landings and it’s very taxing on the sheriff’s resources.”

They said the frequent landings are pulling deputies away from their normal patrols.

“(A deputy) had to stop a speeding driver that was driving dangerously and he called for backup and he couldn’t get any backup because there was three migrant shore landings going on at one time,” Cates said.

Taxpayers must also pick up the bill when migrants don’t survive their perilous journey.

“A few weeks ago, there were five bodies that washed up and there was nobody to claim them,” Gastesi said. “Our medical examiner took them. So that’s a resource we had to use there in the county.”

At the next Monroe County Commission meeting, Cates plans to present a formal resolution asking the federal government for more resources. He says they need more federal agents and more vans to process incoming migrants.

About the Author:

Cody Weddle joined Local 10 News as a full-time reporter in South Florida in August of 2022. Before that, Cody worked regularly with Local 10 since January of 2017 as a foreign correspondent in Venezuela and Colombia.