Florida is receiving a significant share of people crossing the Mexican border illegally, Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a border tour Saturday.
The Governor visited the border and state law enforcement officers, whom he deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border late last month at the request of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. During a news conference at the border town of Del Rio, Texas, DeSantis and Abbott highlighted the record number of people arriving at the border while blaming President Joe Biden and his administration’s immigration policies for that and a rise in crime because of “open border policies.”
Both governors are possible contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. That was apparently when both tripped over each other to begin the news conference — Abbott, the host, saying “I’ll kick it off” before DeSantis, speaking over him, launched into his opening message.
“Seventy percent of the people they have interdicted said their ultimate destination is the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “This is something that every time there’s a wave across that border, I’m not saying it’s 70% in every single part of the border, but for here, it’s the majority.”
North Florida in particular, but even the state at large and the nation have seen an increase in border-related crimes, including drug crimes involving fentanyl and methamphetamine. The controversial move to send Florida state officers hundreds of miles away to the southern border would help cut off crime.
“Your success is really America’s success. We need this to work,” DeSantis said, adding that individual states have to step up until the federal government does.
Abbott said criminals like human traffickers and smugglers sometimes bring children and trap them in northern states or smuggling drugs.
“What happens at the border may be happening here today, but it will be happening in these other states tomorrow or next week or next month,” Abbott said.
Critics have questioned the role of states and their taxpayers to double up on the federal government’s job to patrol the border. The Florida Highway Patrol, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission all agreed to send officers as part of the state’s deployment.
“We’re dealing with the trauma right now, and the first thing you do when you deal with trauma is you stabilize the trauma, and you worry about the bills later,” Abbott said.
In mid-June, Abbott and Ducey sent a letter to the nation’s 48 other governors requesting assistance at the border. The governors of California and New Mexico, the other two border states, are Democrats.
In response to that letter, DeSantis charged that Florida’s rising crime rate isn’t “organic” but rather caused by criminal immigrants.
DeSantis was joined by a platoon of state officials, including Attorney General Ashley Moody, Senate President Wilton Simpson, FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, Florida Highway Patrol Col. Gene Spaulding, and several Texas counterparts.
Also on hand, National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, calling it inhumane to not enforce immigration laws.
“It is inhumane that liberal policies are inviting individuals to put themselves in the hands of these dangerous cartels. It is inhumane that liberal policies are allowing the smuggling, and when we try to properly interdict these individuals, they just throw children into the river to distract us,” Judd said.
Nikki Fried, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner and a Democratic candidate for Governor, criticized DeSantis shortly after the visit was announced.
“Ron DeSantis acts more like the Governor of Fox News than the Governor of Florida,” Fried tweeted.
Ron DeSantis acts more like the Governor of Fox News than the Governor of Florida. https://t.co/KEEuD67p9D
— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) July 16, 2021
Fried’s reaction mirrored the response of Democrats when DeSantis announced plans to mobilize police to the region.
In a letter to DeSantis, 16 Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, decried the deployment as politically motivated. They also argued the move endangered Floridians, who now are protected by fewer officers.
“Your choice to divert Florida officers away from their local communities where they are desperately needed will handicap efforts to combat this critical and urgent public safety issue,” the Democrats’ letter states. “Additionally, summer tourist season is upon us; with a reopened economy, surging numbers in communities coast-to-coast will demand a greater police presence to safeguard and protect Floridians and visitors alike,” the letter adds.
While DeSantis stole the opening lines of the news conference, Abbott soon wrested control, passing the stage to several local law enforcement officers.
DeSantis had a strong showing in a straw poll during last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). With former President Donald Trump on the ballot, DeSantis still drew 21% support to Trump’s 70%. But without Trump, DeSantis drew 68% support while Abbott netted only 1%. That was despite CPAC being held in Dallas this year.
The visit to Texas is the first leg of a trip to the Southwest. He will be in Aspen, Colorado, next week for a Republican Governors Association meeting.