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DeSantis orders Florida resources to stop Haitian migrants despite no sign of increased activity

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, anticipating what his office called the “possibility for invasion," ordered more than 250 law enforcement officers and soldiers to the Florida Keys on Wednesday to stop Haitian migrants fleeing violence — or nearly two people deployed for every Haitian migrant who has been repatriated by the U.S. Coast Guard in the last five months.

Haitian migrants have tried to make the journey to Florida by boat from the impoverished nation for years. DeSantis already sent state resources to the Keys last year in what he said was an attempt to stop migrants. He issued Wednesday's order for additional personnel along with aircraft and boats after violence in Haiti spiked in recent days.

But so far, the Coast Guard hasn't seen increased migrant traffic in the waters off Florida.

“Currently, no, there's nothing out of the ordinary,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Stephen Lehmann in Miami. “We have resources in the area and standing by if we do see an influx.”

The Coast Guard has repatriated 131 migrants found at sea to Haiti since Oct. 1, including 65 on Tuesday who were found on a boat near the Bahamas last week, according to a news release.

The governor's office said in a news release the state has the right to defend itself from “the potential of invasion.” DeSantis is sending a mix of Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, along with members of the Florida National Guard and Florida State Guard, to the waters south of the state's southern Peninsula.

DeSantis made immigration one of his top themes during his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. He has boasted about using millions in state money to fly migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to California, and to fly Venezuelan migrants from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, under a program he pushed through the state Legislature.

Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake.

In recent days, Haiti has witnessed a series of gang attacks that have paralyzed the country, forcing thousands of people from their homes, especially in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, where the port and airport remain closed. The armed gangs seized power in much of Port-au-Prince following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and now control about 80% of the city.

The U.N. food agency reported Tuesday that 4 million people face “acute food insecurity” and 1 million are one step away from famine.

After an intense session of international diplomacy, a group of Caribbean nations and the United States announced Tuesday that Haiti’s best hope for calming violence rests with the creation of a presidential council of influential figures who would elected an interim prime minister and open the pathway for presidential elections. Some Haitian political parties have rejected the plan.