National park closes after 300 migrants arrive over holiday weekend

A remote national park in the Gulf of Mexico closed on Monday after about 300 migrants landed there over the holiday weekend, officials said.

Dry Tortugas State Park, about 70 miles west of Key West, was temporarily closed Monday morning “while law enforcement and medical personnel assess, treat and coordinate transportation to Key West” for migrants, park said in a tweet.

“The closure, which is expected to last several days, is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff due to the resources and space needed to care for migrants,” park officials said in their statement, adding that concession-operated ferry and seaplane services have also been temporarily suspended.

Walter Slosar, chief patrol officer for the Miami sector of the US Border Patrol, said in a tweet Saturday afternoon that at least 88 of the migrants arriving at that time were from Cuba. More than 220,000 Cubans crossed the US-Mexico border in the last fiscal year, and many fled flooding, shortages of medicine and electricity, and a crackdown on anti-government protests.

Sunday afternoon, more than 160 migrants had arrived in 10 landings since midnight, Slosar tweeted.

“Like elsewhere in the Florida Keys, the park has recently seen an increase in the number of people arriving by boat from Cuba and landing on the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park,” the park’s statement continued. “Park first responders are providing basic food, water and medical care until the Department of Homeland Security arrives and takes the lead.”

Rear Admiral Brendan C. McPherson, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Southeast Task Force and commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District, added in a tweet that migrants “will be removed, given food, water and basic first aid before being transferred to federal authorities [law enforcement] agents in the keys for processing by [The U.S. Border Patrol’s Miami Sector] determine their legal status to remain in the United States or undergo removal and repatriation proceedings to their home country.

The 100-square-mile park, made up of seven small islands, is accessible only by boat or plane and is known for its coral reefs and marine and bird life, according to the National Park Service. It houses the 19th century naval fort and the old prison of Fort Jefferson.

Carmen Sesin contributed.


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