Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking the next step in his plan to crack down on illegal immigration with a plan to fight back against President Joe Biden’s “sanctuary federal government.”
Speaking in Pensacola on Friday, the Republican Governor signed legislation and announced initiatives to take more action against illegal immigration at the state level after accusing the Democratic President of violating his oath of office. Among them, DeSantis announced the implementation of a law enforcement strike force on immigration and a petition for the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury on human trafficking and smuggling.
Vilifying San Francisco, Los Angeles and states that don’t enforce immigration laws, DeSantis likened the Biden administration to a “sanctuary federal government.”
“From the President on down, these people took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and they are violating that oath of office with their reckless open border policies,” DeSantis said. “Today, Florida fights back.”
The legislation (SB 1808), which took immediate effect upon DeSantis’ signature, would prevent transportation companies from doing business with Florida if the companies participate in programs to transport to Florida people who are in the country illegally. The law also requires counties to strike agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in a program for local law enforcement officers to help with immigration enforcement, as many counties already have.
DeSantis announced the proposal in December after criticizing Biden’s immigration policies, including bringing flights to Jacksonville to relocate people he claims were in the country illegally. DeSantis and Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, the bill sponsor and whose district includes part of Duval County, have said Florida is aware of 78 early-morning flights organized by the federal government carrying immigrants to Jacksonville.
The strike force — which is already in place and arresting individuals in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties — is composed of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and county Sheriff’s offices. Officers have already arrested seven people for human or drug trafficking. The team is intended to crack down on drug and human trafficking, as well as immigrants who are in the country illegally and carrying firearms illegally.
FHP Director Gene Spaulding said FHP has identified 40 human smuggling cases involving 150 undocumented passengers since January 2021, resulting in over 140 smuggling charges.
“I can’t emphasize enough, that is just scratching the surface,” Spaulding said. “If we were able to go out and dedicate full resources to this issue, it would be much higher than that. I’m confident.”
Additionally, per DeSantis’ petition, the grand jury would examine individuals and organizations that are working with foreign nationals, drug cartels and coyotes to “illegally smuggle minors,” methods of smuggling and local governments that are aiding the smuggling.
DeSantis has long criticized Biden’s border policies, such as ending policies from President Donald Trump’s administration.
“There was more that needed to be done when Biden came in, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that,” the Governor said. “But he went a totally different direction, and now we’re having to try to clean up this mess after him.”
DeSantis visited the southern border last summer after sending law enforcement officials to the Lone Star State at the request of Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. He said he was surprised to learn how many immigrants wish to reach Florida after entering the country illegally.
“The drugs that are coming in affect us, and then just the sheer number of people,” DeSantis said. “If he’s letting all these people in, and they’re going to all communities across our country, just think how many schools are going to be overwhelmed, other health care, other types of public services, just because they can’t keep control of the border.”
In March, the Senate passed the legislation 24-15, along party lines, and the House approved the measure 77-42, with two Republicans and one Democrat crossing the aisle. Democrats criticized the measure as part of DeSantis and others’ “xenophobic rhetoric.”
In September, a federal judge struck down part of Florida’s 2019 sanctuary cities law, but Republicans hope the new bill will be another shot at the measure as the ruling goes to an appeal.
DeSantis’ proposed budget included $8 million to transport undocumented immigrants out-of-state, to places like Biden’s home state of Delaware. The proposal appeared in neither chamber’s budgets until Sunday, when the Senate included $12 million in its proposal for that purpose. The House agreed to that spending Tuesday morning.
While the Legislature acceded to the provision, the law DeSantis signed doesn’t consider two of his five major proposals to address the “Biden border crisis.”
The bill doesn’t contemplate strengthening E-Verify enforcement or requiring private entities that bring immigrants in the country illegally to Florida to compensate the state for “the harmful costs that fall on the public.”
DeSantis also asked for jails and courts to collect the immigration status of individuals at the time of their arrest and conviction, but the bill doesn’t go that far with its immigration status reporting provisions.
DeSantis faces re-election in November and is an early front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, a possibility the Governor has brushed off. Democrats in the House and the Senate have repeatedly alluded to DeSantis’ suspected 2024 campaign. Meanwhile, Bean is now running for Congress in Florida’s 4th Congressional District. And Stuart Republican Rep. John Snyder, the House sponsor, is also up for re-election.
On Tuesday, Republican Mayra Flores flipped a South Texas congressional district for Republicans for the first time in 100 years. DeSantis credited communities on the border for fighting back against the Biden administration.
“Politically, now they’re saying they’ve had enough of this,” DeSantis said. “If we were here five years ago and you said that she could have won, everyone would have said there’s no way you could ever do it. Well, now you’re seeing it.”