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INS News Release

October 19, 1998

INS and Florida Sign Historic Agreement
On Response to a Mass Migration

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Doris Meissner and Florida Governor Lawton Chiles today signed the first agreement between the federal government and a state that provides for a joint response to a mass influx of aliens.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalizes the terms under which Florida will support INS operations in response to an actual or imminent mass migration into the state. Under the MOU, Florida may provide logistical and law enforcement support to the federal response upon request by INS. INS, as the lead federal agency, will coordinate responsive law enforcement operations, and the state will be reimbursed for authorized expenses incurred. Implementation of the MOU is contingent upon action by the Attorney General to obligate funds from the Immigration Emergency Fund. The Attorney General also can approve the delegation of authority to state law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law during the mass migration.

A companion agreement outlining how state and local enforcement officers can help enforce federal immigration law has been drafted and will be executed with individual Florida law enforcement agencies following final implementing regulations that are expected to be published in the Federal Register later this year. INS has completed an initial draft of the implementing regulation that is under review at the Department of Justice. Under the terms of the draft companion agreement, Florida law enforcement officers would periodically receive immigration law training in preparation to help enforce immigration law under the direction of the INS only during an actual or imminent mass migration as determined by the Attorney General.

Meissner emphasized that INS is not aware of any information that indicates a mass migration event is imminent. She also noted that the Attorney General's ability to delegate federal authority in these situations is distinct from the Attorney General's authority to do so in cases not involving such an emergency.

"This MOU is the latest milestone in a continuing effort to improve coordination of the overall U.S. government response to mass migration events. It is an example of responsible government in action and demonstrates that contingency plans are in place to deal with such an emergency whenever it might occur," Meissner said. "This signing recognizes the work accomplished to date, ratifies the procedures for coordinated response operations, and reaffirms the commitment INS and the State of Florida have made to continue the process."

Meissner said the agreement "clearly shows that INS is continuing to carry out its responsibility as the lead federal agency in planning for and responding to any emergency created by a mass migration. I thank Governor Chiles and the State of Florida for their continuing support to the planning process."

Chiles called the MOU a landmark agreement, and said he was pleased with the cooperation from INS and Commissioner Meissner. "Four years ago, I declared a state of emergency in South Florida," Chiles said. "Today, I'm declaring victory because the federal government will assume full responsibility for future mass migration response operations."

The MOU, the culmination of a two-year planning effort with the State of Florida, is a key element in the ongoing effort by the Department of Justice and INS to develop and implement a comprehensive federal response to any mass influx of aliens within the state. The effort has included the development of an operational plan to address mass migration events and a series of exercises designed to test the viability of that plan.

The largest of those exercises, which involved several hundred personnel from INS, the Coast Guard, the Public Health Service, and state and local authorities, was held in February of 1997 and clearly demonstrated that the federal government has increased its readiness and renewed its commitment to respond promptly to control mass illegal immigration into Florida. While U.S. policy to interdict migrants at sea and process them offshore remains unchanged, this plan provides a mechanism for apprehending and detaining those aliens who evade interdiction and arrive on our shores in violation of federal law.

Today's MOU is a significant step in formalizing and improving the planned federal response and ensuring cooperation with the State of Florida, but is by no means the end of the road. Subsequent planning efforts, to begin this fall, will address other joint INS and state concerns regarding mass migration issues. Under the terms of the MOU,

INS is responsible for:

  • Functioning as the lead federal agency;
  • Providing immigration law training to state and local law enforcement officers designated to enforce immigration law;
  • Coordinating utilization of resources and personnel to support an operation; and
  • Coordinating the reimbursement of the state and local governments for support provided at INS' request.

In support of the federal operation, the state will:

  • Provide operational support, at its discretion, as requested by INS;
  • Serve as a coordinator between its political subdivisions and INS;
  • Provide law enforcement and logistics support, at its discretion, to the federal mass migration response operations as requested by INS; and
  • Maintain law and order within the state.

- INS -

Last Modified 02/20/2003