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On the Border in Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks: Federal Law Enforcement Perspectives on Response to Cuban Immigrant Landings

Amanda L. Bentley, Michael A. Schuett


Federal agencies operating along the border in southern Florida include the United States Coast Guard (USCG), United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the National Park Service (NPS). Each agency has its own mission concerning immigration, and problems have emerged regarding responsibilities and procedures for response to Cuban immigrant landings. The NPS Southeast Regional Director wanted to understand how Cuban immigrant landings are impacting law enforcement units in south Florida’s national parks. Personal communications with NPS managers and law enforcement officers indicated that Cuban immigrant landings affect at least three components of national park management: 1) workforce, 2) park operations, and 3) interagency coordination. To understand more about response to Cuban immigrant landings, the following research questions were proposed: How do federal agencies work together in response to Cuban immigrant landings within national parks? What knowledge and expectations do responding personnel have regarding tactics for response? What tactics should be emphasized during future response? Investigations like this have been conducted along the southwestern border with public land management agencies such as the NPS and border protection agencies such as CBP, but this was the first comprehensive investigation of federal agencies along the southeastern border and their response to Cuban immigration. Currently, very few coordinated policies or formal written procedures exist for the NPS to follow in coordinating with other federal agencies in response to immigrant landings (personal communication 1/12/11, NPS manager). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to reveal perspectives among federal agents, managers and law enforcement officers in terms of knowledge and expectations about tactics for response to Cuban immigrant landings within national parks in southern Florida. The concept of shared mental models (SMM) provided a framework for the research, and data were collected through the Q method, including semistructured interviews. Results of the semi-structured interviews revealed three key areas in which federal agencies work together on the southeastern border: 64 communication, workforce, and budgets. Results of the subsequent steps in Q method revealed three factors, or perspectives, on response to landings: 1) Assess, React, and Transport; 2) Protect; and 3) Plan, as well as the tactics federal agents, managers and law enforcement officers would emphasize during future response. Future research is needed to assess perspectives among personnel in other parks in the region like Virgin Islands National Park, and to understand the impacts of immigrant landings to visitors and resources.


Immigrant landings; national parks; Cuban immigration; Q method; interagency coordination

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