TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday mobilized the state National Guard to help local officials respond to a large influx of Cuban migrants landing in the Florida Keys.

DeSantis, a Republican, activated the Florida National Guard and directed state law agencies to assist in the Keys through an executive order in response to the arrival of more than 700 mostly Cuban migrants over the New Year’s weekend alone.

In a statement, the governor criticized Democratic President Joe Biden and the federal government’s immigration policies and response to the migrants landing in the Keys.

The governor’s statement made no mention of the Biden administration’s announcement Thursday of a new policy to start turning back Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans at the Texas border, along with Venezuelans, who arrive illegally. The administration also said it would offer humanitarian parole for up 30,000 people a month from those four countries if they apply online, pay their airfare and find a financial sponsor.

Kevin Perez of Matanzas, Cuba, calls his grandmother from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Marathon, Fla.

Some migrants advocates said that new policy could worsen the situation in Florida. Ramón Raul Sanchez with the Cuban American group Movimiento Democracia said even more Cubans may risk their lives by taking to the sea to reach the U.S. instead of flying to Central America and coming to the Texas border by land.

Blas Nuñez Neto, acting Assistant Secretary for Border and Immigration Policy in the Department for Homeland Security, said the new program could incentivize Cubans not to come illegally by sea.

He said Cubans would be better off applying under the new parole program announced Thursday because that would give them a potential path to residency that they might not otherwise have.

“Do not risk your life at sea” because there are “much better options” under the new program, he said.

DeSantis said Florida will deploy airplanes, helicopter and marine patrols to the area “to support water interdictions and ensure the safety of migrants attempting to reach Florida through the Florida Straits.”

More than 4,400 migrants, mostly Cubans with some Haitians, have arrived by boat in Florida since August as those two countries face deepening and compounding political and economic crises. Because Washington and Havana don’t have diplomatic relations, it is problematic for the U.S. government to send Cubans back once they arrive in Florida.

Those who are stopped at sea are already taken back, since Cuba will accept those people. Almost 8,000 Cubans and Haitians have been intercepted since August — about 50 per day compared with 17 per day in the 2021-22 fiscal year and just two per day during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Officials said at least 65 migrants have died at sea since August.

AP reporter Gisela Salomon contributed from Miami.

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