After flying migrants to California, DeSantis calls for multistate border partnership

Tribune Content Agency

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who has made immigration a major theme in his campaign, is doubling down on the idea that Republicans need to come together and take border security into their own hands.

At an event in Arizona on Wednesday, DeSantis listed all the hard-line immigration policies he has championed in Florida to preface that he has “the will” to work with like-minded Republican governors and sheriffs to respond to issues at the southern border.

“There is no reason why we can’t be working with Texas or why we can’t work with Arizona, at the local level or at the state level,” said DeSantis, whose event in Sierra Vista, Arizona, marked his first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border as a presidential candidate.

Without providing much detail, DeSantis said that there will be an announcement in the coming days that will show how he plans to formalize the multistate partnership. The effort, he said, is a rebuke of President Joe Biden’s border policies.

“We have the will in states like Florida … but you may not have the will in Washington, D.C. So we got to work together to try to overcome that,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis was joined by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Republican law enforcement officers from Florida, Texas and Arizona, including Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who has advocated for taking border security in defiance of the federal government.

Dannels, for example, supported an effort by former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey last year that entailed spending $82 million to build a makeshift wall with shipping containers along the border with Mexico. The Biden administration said the governor had no authority to unilaterally reshape federally managed public lands.

Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner of Texas said more needs to be done to combat drug smuggling through the southern border and said he was “really proud” of DeSantis for sending Florida law enforcement officers to Texas. At one point, DeSantis pivoted to foreign policy, saying that the president of the United States should take action against Mexico over border-security issues.

“Mexico is allowing millions of people to traverse through their country knowing there are crimes being committed… and they are just letting it happen,” DeSantis said. “We have a tremendous amount of leverage over Mexico. We have different levers that we can push and that to me is a no-brainer.”

The Arizona event comes a day after Florida officials confirmed they had directed two planes with roughly 30 migrants to fly to California on Friday and Monday, as part of DeSantis’ so-called migrant relocation program. The state-funded operation is being investigated by California officials, who said the migrants were tricked and told to board the planes under the false promise of jobs.

The migrants are legally in the country and are free to travel throughout the United States after they were released from federal custody, vetted by the Department of Homeland Security and assigned a hearing date for processing.

After days of silence, DeSantis talked about the California flights and defended the program, saying that it got “overwhelming support from the Legislature.”

The program has been in operation since last fall when DeSantis first directed two planes with 49 migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Since then, the program has faced criticism, lawsuits and criminal investigations, and earlier this year, the Florida lawmakers expanded the program to give DeSantis the authority to transport migrants anywhere in the country.

DeSantis did not address any of the allegations that Florida deceived migrants who were transported to California by the state contractor, Vertol Systems Co.

Instead, DeSantis said states like California, which he called “sanctuary jurisdictions,” are part of the border problem.

“And then when they have to deal with some of the fruits of that they all of a sudden become very, very upset about that,” said DeSantis, who is expected to campaign in Texas and Nevada this week.

California officials and community faith leaders, however, have mostly expressed frustration at how the state and its contractor handled the operation. They have emphasized that the migrants are welcome to stay in the state and that they will offer them assistance.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management defended the program, saying migrants volunteered to be relocated to California “through verbal and written consent” and that a contractor “was present and ensured they made it safely.” It also published a video showing migrants smiling and expressing gratitude.

State officials did not say who took the footage of the migrants or why the footage was taken. They have also not responded to accusations from California officials that Vertol Systems, a state contractor, made false promises to the migrants and abandoned them without resources in Sacramento.

The Herald/Times has requested an interview with Kevin Guthrie, the director of the Division of Emergency Management.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday that the flights and other efforts from GOP governors to ship migrants across the country cause “chaos” and “confusion” but declined to say whether they were illegal.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Jean-Pierre said. “They’re playing games and are not going to actually deal with the issue at hand.”

The press secretary encouraged the governors to work with the president in a bipartisan way to deal with the increase of migrants at the southern border.

(McClatchy DC reporter Alex Roarty contributed to this report from Washington.)