Why a government tent complex has popped up in the Florida Keys

(NewsNation) — Something new has arrived amid mansions and estates and waterfront views in the Upper Florida Keys along U.S. 1: a tent city.

While it used to be the main street prior to the Abroad Highway completion in 1938, The Old Highway, as local residents call it, now runs behind restaurants, gift shops and gas stations.

Around marker 88.5, a camp was set up on eight vacant, privately owned lots off a dead-end road called Aregood Lane in February, the Miami Herald reported.

It’s an area that now has more than a dozen trailers, a large air-conditioned tent, portable bathrooms and laundry facilities, according to the Miami Herald.

According to a statement released by the Islamorada village government, the makeshift complex was built to house the influx of state law enforcement officers who were sent to the Florida Keys last month as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order to deal with the increase of migrant landings in the Keys.

According to the statement, the popup facility is a “base camp,” and “is NOT a migrant holding area.”

“This Base Camp is for storage of vehicles and a housing/ laundry facility for the National Guard and The FHP Officers sent here after the State of Emergency was declared, due to the influx of Migrant Landings in the Keys,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, the camp is needed due to the added police officers and other personnel who were temporarily reassigned to the Florida Keys staying in hotel rooms, Shannon Weiner, Monroe County’s director of Emergency Management, told the Miami Herald. However, those rooms are now needed for guests due to the island being in peak tourist season.

“The base camp belongs to the Florida Division of Emergency Management,” Weiner told the Miami Herald. “Due to a lack of hotel availability in Monroe County, it is being stood up to house state employees in Monroe assigned to the migrant response.”

The base camp will open following the expiration of DeSantis’ Jan. 5 executive order in a couple of weeks, which he issued as an already heavy surge of migrants in South Florida increased over the Christmas holidays.

It also became serious enough that federal officials closed the Dry Tortugas National Park due to an increase in Cuban migrants arriving on the remote islands located about 70 miles west of Key West that overwhelmed the skeleton crew of park rangers, the Miami Herald reported.

DeSantis also ordered National Guard aircrews to the Florida Keys, along with officers with the Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Now, arrivals are happening a few times a week or less compared to several landings a day that took place in January.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, there were 100 to 150 National Guard soldiers assigned to the Keys under the executive order.

It is unclear how long the base camp will be housing the officers and additional personnel.


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