Gov. DeSantis fears Bahamian refugee influx might stress Florida’s counties financially

Satellite image of the Bahamas. Source: NASA

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has maintained that Florida has no role in smoothing recovery in the Bahamas or admitting refugees following Hurricane Dorian, announced Tuesday that he has discussed the refugee situation with the White House and is sending aid after all.

His administration is helping to coordinate state and private assistance to the Bahamas, the governor said, including housing and 10 truckloads of bottled water that Florida and the utility collected for Dorian recovery.

Additionally, companies that pledged financial assistance to the state’s recovery have agreed to divert $3 million in cash, supplies, and services to the Bahamas. Total corporate pledges will exceed $11 million, DeSantis said during a news conference at a Florida Power & Light Co. facility in West Palm Beach.

Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, fellow Republicans who represent Florida in the U.S. Senate, have urged the Trump administration to waive visa requirements for Bahamian climate refugees.

But DeSantis expressed concern for the financial burden Bahamians might impose on state and county governments. Most of the refugees thus far have family members or friends in Florida who can shelter them, he said.

“That’s no harm for us. If they’re following whatever the administration’s policy is, that’s good,” he said. “if you’re somebody who needs assistance – like you don’t have a place to stay – right now in Florida there’s no shelters open or anything like that.”

Meanwhile, the White House has assured him that officials are adding personnel to handle visa requests. “They have not seen an increase in the requests, but they are sensitive to that and they are standing by and doing that,” he told reporters.

As recently as Monday, when a reporter asked whether state government should be doing more for the Bahamas, DeSantis called it “a ridiculous question.”

“The idea that it should be the state’s responsibility – if you think that, they you have no idea how our system of government works,” he said during an event at Florida State University. “The idea that I would overstep the federal government – it’s just absurd.”

On Tuesday, he said that the Bahamian government is discouraging people from leaving the country. “And I think that’s probably the smart policy,” he said. “If they have the ability to get on their feet there, they’re going to be the key people who bring the country back.”

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