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Florida Health Dept.: Surprised By Immigrant Arrivals

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Thousands of unaccompanied minors who are crossing the border with no families are  being housed in border states but soon South Florida could be seeing a similar situation.

On Friday, the Florida Surgeon General sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency saying "The Florida Department of Health has received unconfirmed reports that the federal government is bringing unaccompanied minors from the border to Florida today."

"They anticipate that they'll be 95,000 kids," said immigration attorney Grisel Ybarra.""I don't think this is going to happen. Now it may happen in the future but it needs to be in an organized way.  First thing the federal government needs to do is find a place to put these kids."

CBS4's Marybel Rodriguez spoke with Congressman Joe Garcia on the phone who said he has not heard of this happening however he did meet with a group of children already in Miami.

"I have not heard of any particular group. We do know three weeks ago,  a group of 60 arrived and know of of 300 that were already here," said Garcia over the phone.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration expressed surprise and concern over the reports despite immigration attorneys saying the practice has gone on for years.

In the last year, the number of Central American children crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico has skyrocketed, with more than 57,000 children — mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — arriving since Oct. 1.

Many are fleeing gang violence, poverty or both and hope to reunite with relatives already in the United States. Unlike children from Mexico, those coming from Central America are entitled to an immigration hearing and may not be automatically deported under U.S. law. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to approve an emergency $3.7 billion spending bill to deal with the crisis.

Some of these youths are being sent to shelters around the country, including in Florida.

In the letter Armstrong, shared with reporters, he cited an ABC News report that the federal government was so overwhelmed that it was not providing basic medical screenings to the children and demanded to know what steps the department was taking to screen the children and track infectious diseases. The Florida health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Miami immigration attorney Cheryl Little said she was confused by the letter since the federal government has for years housed unaccompanied children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border in South Florida shelters. She said her organization, Americans for Immigrant Justice, meets with dozens of these youth each week.

The letter, which was also addressed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requests details about "any records of infectious diseases associated with the children currently in federal care in Florida..."

"I just don't get it," Little said. "We've been seeing children for years who've fled Central America and other countries and arrive here. We interact with them (at the shelters) all the time. We're not afraid of catching any horrific diseases. Maybe a child has a common cold. The concerns being raised here are so farfetched in our experience."

Little said the number of youth her organization has provided services to has increased drastically in the last year — up from about 1,600 in 2013 to that many as of July of this year.

She said the two main youth shelters in Miami together house about 200 youth and are adding another 24 beds. She said minors are sent there as they await their legal cases, often for asylum or to reunite with parents in the country. They tend to stay in the shelters from a week to a month, depending on the case.

Watch the report, click here.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used  under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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