By Gray Rohrer and Steven Lemongello
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he’s sending state and local law enforcement officers to the U.S. border with Mexico, answering a request from the governors of Arizona and Texas for help from other states to prevent illegal immigration and deport those here illegally.
DeSantis blamed President Joe Biden for undoing many of the policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, to enforce immigration laws, saying those moves have led to a surge in illegal drug importation and crime.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown here in April 2021, said on June 16, 2021, that he will send state and local police officers to the Mexican border. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)
“We believe securing the border is important for our country,” DeSantis said at a Pensacola news conference. “Where the federal government has failed the states are stepping up and doing our best to fill the void.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have committed to sending resources and aid, as have local sheriffs from Brevard, Escambia, Hillsborough, Holmes, Lee, Okaloosa, Pasco, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.
But it’s unclear how many officers will be sent, what they’ll be doing when they get there or how much it will cost state taxpayers. DeSantis said those details haven’t been finalized yet, but said they’ll be gone for 16 days, the length requested by Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.
The letter from the governors was sent to the other 48 states, and DeSantis said Florida is the first to agree to send aid.
When asked if the diversion of Florida law enforcement would hurt police efforts in Florida, DeSantis said helping prevent illegal immigration will reduce crime in the state.
On Tuesday, though, DeSantis blamed an increase in violent crime on cuts to police budgets when he was asked about a spike in violent crimes in the state, particularly mass shootings in South Florida, and touted his move to allow local sheriffs to appeal funding cuts to the state.
“The areas where you’re seeing massive increases in crime, almost invariably they’ve adopted either soft on crime policies or turned their back on law enforcement,” DeSantis said after a Cabinet meeting. “That allows more crime to occur.”
The Florida Police Benevolent Association did not return a request for comment.
Some Democrats objected to the move.
“It’s just another political stunt from Gov. DeSantis, who’s using the letter from the Arizona and Texas governors to promote himself,” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat.
“But I have questions,” Smith said. “Who’s going to pay for this? Who’s footing the bill for Gov. DeSantis’ latest political stunt? Will this defund local police? … What are they going to be doing? How does it help Florida? And when is Gov. DeSantis going to stop chasing boogeymen and actually start helping Floridians?”
In May, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 180,000 people entering the country at the southern border, according to data from the federal agency. That’s a large increase on the 23,000 undocumented immigrants encountered in May 2020, but those numbers were deflated due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, last month’s total is an increase over the 144,000 encounters in May 2019.
DeSantis, who is being touted in some conservative circles as a potential GOP nominee to run against Biden in 2024, blamed the president for the surge in border crossings. He cited Biden’s revocation of Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required asylum-seekers from Central American countries to stay in Mexico while their cases proceed in U.S. courts.
“You see these images on the news. It just seems like everything is out of control,” DeSantis said. “That’s not how a sovereign country behaves.”
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