The White House announced today that the Federal Government is taking additional actions to respond to the current emergency precipitated by the Cuban Government. More than 5,000 Cubans have already arrived in Florida in more than 170 small boats, and the Coast Guard estimates that as many as 2,000 additional boats are either loading passengers in Cuba or are en route to the Florida coast.
The President has directed Jack Watson, his Assistant for Intergovernmental Affairs and Secretary to the Cabinet, to work with Ambassador Victor Palmieri, U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs, in managing the Federal Government's overall response to the emergency. Watson outlined the following actions:
—A processing and screening center will be established at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., to supplement the receiving and processing facilities already located in Key West and Miami. The Eglin facility will accommodate approximately 1,000 persons within 24 hours and will be expanded to accommodate between 5,000 and 10,000 within 10 days. Additional facilities will be added as needed.
—Reception facilities at Key West are being expanded to accommodate daily flows of between 2,500 and 3,000, and other Federal services are being made available there, including those of a Public Health Service medical assistance team.
—Several hundred Federal personnel have been directed to the Miami/Key West area, so that more than 1,000 personnel from eight Federal agencies are now actively engaged with volunteer organizations and State and local governments in receiving, processing, and assisting the arriving Cubans. Tom Casey, Deputy Associate Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been assigned responsibility for on-site coordination of all Federal Government activities.
—The Coast Guard has expanded its capability to provide rescue and assistance missions between the Florida and Cuban coasts and, within the last few days, has performed approximately 300 rescue missions in the area. As announced earlier this week by the Department of Defense, U.S. naval vessels which had been intended for Operation Solid Shield are now being made available to assist the Coast Guard in rescue operations.
—Because the Cuban Government is including individuals with criminal records in the boatloads of departing Cubans, careful screening of all arrivals is being conducted by appropriate Federal officials. Under U.S. immigration laws, individuals with records of criminal activity who represent a threat to the country or whose presence would not be in the best interests of the United States are subject to arrest, detention, and deportation to their countries of origin. The United States will enforce these laws.
—State Department officials will be working with national voluntary organizations to provide additional reception and resettlement assistance to Cuban, Haitian, and other groups seeking political asylum, which are so heavily affecting the Miami area.
The President appreciates the extraordinarily effective efforts of the State and local governments in Florida in dealing with this extremely difficult situation.
"The responsiveness, cooperation, and diligence demonstrated by Governor Graham, agencies of the State government, and local government leaders in South Florida, especially in Dade County and Miami, have been exemplary," Watson said. "In addition, the round-the-clock efforts of voluntary organizations and members of the Cuban-American community have been invaluable. Without their support and help, the situation could not have been managed."