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The danger with misreading Florida's number of Puerto Rican arrivals since Hurricane Maria

@PatriciaMazzei

The number of Puerto Ricans who have arrived in Florida since Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 20 is large. But it's probably not as large as the figure being mentioned in news articles, opinion columns and social-media posts.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, more than 160,000 people have arrived from Puerto Rico to the Miami, Orlando and Tampa airports (MIA, MCO and TPA, respectively) since Oct. 3, when regular commercial flights to the island resumed after the storm.

That doesn't necessarily mean more than 160,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida.

The state's number includes everyone who has landed in Florida from Puerto Rico, including aid workers, reporters, government officials and Puerto Ricans who already live on the mainland and went to help their families. It also includes Puerto Ricans who might have landed in Florida but continued to travel elsewhere. And it doesn't include Puerto Ricans who might have arrived to some other airport and then traveled to Florida.

The number of Puerto Ricans assisted by the state government's disaster relief centers at the Miami International Airport, Orlando International Airport and the Port of Miami has been far lower. As of Nov. 10, for example, more than 73,000 people from Puerto Rico had arrived to MIA, MCO and Port Everglades, but the number of people served at the disaster relief centers was about 15,000.

As of the same date, Florida public school districts had enrolled some 3,500 displaced Puerto Rican students.

Of course, not every Puerto Rican will need state help, especially if they already have family and friends here. Not all will have children. Some will register children in private schools.

But, in short: None of these numbers offers a clear picture yet of exactly how many Puerto Ricans have moved to the state or plan to remain here permanently -- though it's safe to assume at least some will, and that might be enough to shift the state's demographics, including for the 2018 election.

The number of Puerto Ricans arriving in Florida has continued to grow as the island's prolonged power outage continues to be unresolved, and jobs continue to be scarce, and clean water continues to be a luxury.

But it's still too early to say by how much Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans will alter Florida's swing politics and decidedly make Central Florida blue.

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