Florida’s lead on illegal immigration will earn more than six figures as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reinvigorated effort to address the crisis at the southern border.
Taxpayers will pay Larry Keefe — a former Trump-nominated U.S. Attorney — a $125,000 salary in his new role as “Public Safety Czar.” DeSantis announced the appointment Tuesday as part of a three-pronged strategy to combat President Joe Biden’s “open border” policies.
As a senior policy adviser, Keefe is tasked with overseeing the Governor’s latest executive order against illegal immigration. Statewide policy development and lobbying are among the duties listed in his official job description, as well as advising DeSantis on pending legislation and working directly with lawmakers, state department heads and federal agencies.
Speaking to Florida Politics, Christina Pushaw — DeSantis’ press secretary — said the appointment is funded via dollars earmarked within the Governor’s Office 2021-222 FY budget. Keefe’s salary, she noted, is less than the salaries of many senior policy advisers. Some earn as much as $170,000 a year, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
“Florida taxpayers are footing an enormous bill for Democrats’ destructive open borders agenda,” Pushaw told Florida Politics. “The costs of illegal immigration to Floridians are thousands of times higher than Mr. Keefe’s salary.”
The Governor’s order against illegal immigration includes a lawsuit challenging Biden’s “catch and release” policy and an expansive executive order.
Among other pursuits, it prohibits state agencies from assisting the federal government in relocating undocumented migrants into Florida. It also prompts the Department of Children and Families to determine if Florida should continue housing unaccompanied migrant minors in the state.
“The detrimental effects of an unsecure Southwest Border will reverberate far beyond the border states,” the executive order contends.
The move, however, comes as critics question the role of states and their taxpayers regarding immigration and border security issues, as well as the Governor’s motives.
Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith on Tuesday described the announcement as little more than a “fundraising ploy.”
“Gov. Ron DeSantis just issued a new and illegal (decree) to make it look like he’s cracking down on immigrants,” Smith wrote on Twitter. “ProTip– He’s not. “This is another fundraising ploy for his presidential campaign in a race to the bottom between him and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott.”
Democratic Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist billed the order a “political stunt” aimed at shifting attention away from the DeSantis’ “failures.”
“Heartless and wrong,” Crist tweeted about the order.
Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo — a granddaughter of Italian immigrants — accused DeSantis of using migrants as “politics pawns” and said the order appeals to “extremists” in the Republican Party.
“Putting aside the fact that Florida is not a border state, (the order) further shows this Governor’s willingness to fuel the politics of hate to gain support for this future presidential ambitions,” Taddeo said in a statement.
DeSantis, however, maintains the border crisis is a threat to the health and safety of Floridians. The order cites a slew of possible “detrimental effects” including crime, diminished economic opportunities and increased stress on the state’s healthcare and education systems amid the pandemic.
“The claim that ‘illegal immigration doesn’t affect Florida because we aren’t a border state’ is false and offensive to the Floridians who have lost their loved ones or been assaulted by criminal aliens,” Pushaw told Florida Politics in an email that included links to several instances of violence perpetrated by undocumented immigrants in Florida.
Moody on Tuesday pointed to the prevalence of fentanyl in Florida. The drug, primarily manufactured in Mexico, is nearly 100 times more potent than morphine and the leading culprit in the ongoing opioid crisis. Floridians are overdosing at higher rates than many Americans.
“We know we have seen increasing amounts of drugs flowing over our borders, specifically fentanyl,” Moody said. “Enough fentanyl to kill our United States population four times over.”
Like DeSantis and Moody, Keefe blamed Biden.
“I promise you, if there are people illegally in our state and if they’re in violation of our law, we are going to enforce our law,” Keefe told reporters.
DeSantis has also highlighted the rise of migrant encounters at the border repeatedly. According to the Pew Research Center, migrant encounters at the U.S. and Mexico border are at a 21-year high.
What’s more, U.S. Border Patrol in July reported more than 200,000 encounters along the southern border, 27% of which involved a person who previously encountered border agents within the last 12 months. Encounters with unaccompanied children, meanwhile, increased by 24% to 18,962 in the same month.
After a border trip in July alongside Abbott, DeSantis said a large share of people apprehended at the border — roughly 70% — are headed to Florida.
“The problem here is that the Biden Administration flat-out refuses to enforce the immigration laws of our country, and states bear the brunt of the federal government’s failures,” Pushaw added. “Governor DeSantis is committed to filling that void of leadership and doing everything in his power to protect Floridians.”
DeSantis in June mobilized 50 law enforcement officers to defend the region. More recently, he and a collective of Republican governors urged Biden to host a White House meeting on the matter.
On Tuesday, Moody estimated the cost of incarcerating criminal undocumented immigrants in Florida is more than $100 million.