The National Park Service on Monday temporarily closed Dry Tortugas National Park to give law enforcement the space to deal with a surge in migrant landings in the Florida Keys location. Photo courtesy of Dry Tortugas National Park/Facebook
Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Federal officials closed Florida's Dry Tortugas National Park on Monday after some 300 migrants arrived on the cluster of islands near Key West over the last couple of days.
Dry Tortugas National Park, an archipelago of seven islands located some 70 miles west of Key West and 100 miles north of Cuba, closed to the public at 8 a.m. Monday to allow law enforcement and medical personnel to evaluate and provide care for migrants who have arrived over the holiday weekend.
"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 National Park Service said in a statement.
Officials closed the park following a weekend that saw a spike in migrants from Cuba attempting to enter the United States via the Florida Keys.
On New Year's Day, border patrol agents encountered more than 160 migrants while responding with local and state partners to 10 migrant landings, Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar said.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office, the primary local law enforcement agency for the Florida Keys, on Monday confirmed that 160 migrants had landed in the middle and upper Keys with as may as 300 arriving in the Dry Tortugas.
Homeland Security said it is aware of the multiple landings and was working with its partners to "recover" those stranded on remote and uninhabited islands.
Officials said the migrants will be provided food, water and basic first aid before being transferred to federal law enforcement agents in the Keys for processing to determine their legal status to remain in the United States or to process them for expulsion.
"Irregular, illegal maritime migration is always dangerous and very often deadly," Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson, commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District and director of Homeland Security Task Force --Southeast, said in a statement warning those thinking of attempting to enter to the United States via the ocean to not attempt the perilous voyage.
The arrival of the migrants occurred as the United States saw a record number of migrants crossing into the United States via the southern border in November and amid an increase in irregular maritime migration from the Bahamas an Cuba through the Straits of Florida.
In September, Homeland Security Task Force -- Southeast said it and its partners would be increasing patrols and enforcement by land, air and sea at all hours of the day and night to combat the surge.
On New Year's Eve, the U.S. Coast Guard said it has interdicted 4,076 Cubans since Oct. 1, compared to 6,182 for all of Fiscal Year 2022 and 838 during the entirety of of the 2021 fiscal year.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office on Monday said it was told by U.S. Border Patrol that some migrants who have recently arrived in the Florida Keys will have to wait for additional federal resources.
The office responded by accusing the federal government of being ill prepared and that its failure was "creating a humanitarian crisis."
"This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable," Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a statement.