DeSantis pitches crackdown on illegal immigration in first major policy proposal of his campaign

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In his first major policy rollout of his 2024 presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday proposed a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigration, including sending the US military to the border and mass detention and deportation of undocumented people.

DeSantis would also end birthright citizenship and build a wall at the southern border, resurfacing two ideas once championed by his chief rival for the GOP nomination, Donald Trump.

The introduction of his immigration platform coincided with a visit here by DeSantis, where he is speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post. Ahead of the event, DeSantis toured the border by boat with Fox News and his campaign released an ominous video touching on many of the Republican Party’s talking points about illegal immigration, including an influx of crime and drugs.

As governor, DeSantis has often waded into the country’s immigration debate. Last September, he orchestrated two flights to carry migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in an operation that drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and immigration advocates but earned him considerable praise from conservative media. He followed up those efforts earlier this month with two more flights that sent migrants from El Paso, Texas, to Sacramento, California. DeSantis in his four plus years leading Florida has also pushed new laws banning sanctuary cities and requiring employers to check the eligibility of its workforce, and he has sent Florida law enforcement and the National Guard to the southern border to aid in Texas enforcement efforts.

In Monday’s proposal, DeSantis claimed the Biden administration is the “critical link in an illegal transnational human smuggling syndicate,” and threw criticism at both sides of the aisle for failing to solve the border crisis over the past decades.

“For decades, leaders from both parties have produced empty promises on border security, and now it is time to act to stop the invasion once and for all,” DeSantis said. “As president, I will declare a national emergency on day one and will not rest until we build the wall, shut down illegal entry, and win the war against the drug cartels. No excuses. We will get it done.”

DeSantis’ early emphasis on immigration as a GOP presidential candidate brings into focus his attempts to run concurrent campaigns against President Joe Biden and Trump. The video DeSantis released blames the Biden administration for the state of the border, but the tagline for his platform – “no excuses” – invokes the Florida governor’s chief criticism of the Trump presidency as a period of unmet promises.

Indeed, over the weekend, his campaign tweeted a clip of Trump promising “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” with the comment: “Trump ran on this same promise in 2016, but ended up deporting fewer illegals than Barack Obama.”

Trump, as a candidate in 2016, famously vowed to build a wall at the southern border and have Mexico pay for it. He ended his first term having constructed about 100 miles of new wall, the majority of which replaced previous construction. Trump also said he would end so-called birthright citizenship, but ran into the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which grants citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States.” He has revived the promise once again in his campaign to win back the White House.

DeSantis in his policy plan suggests that the plain reading of the 14th Amendment is “inconsistent with the original understanding” and says he would “force the courts and Congress to finally address the failed policy,” though he doesn’t elaborate how.

Unlike Trump, DeSantis does not explicitly insist Mexico will pay for a wall. But he said he will station troops at the border until it’s complete and also says a DeSantis administration would collect “tax remittances from illegal aliens” and penalize countries that attempt to evade collection.

DeSantis also said he would end the so-called “catch and release” policy that allows some non-violent individuals to live in the United States while they await a court hearing on their immigration and asylum claims. Instead, DeSantis’ proposal calls for the detention of undocumented people until their hearing date, a policy that would likely lead to tens of thousands of people held by the US government for an indefinite amount of time.

DeSantis is also vowing to deport “criminal aliens.” His proposal did not say if a “criminal alien” includes anyone who is not in the US legally or undocumented individuals convicted of a crime while here. DeSantis would also deport people who overstay their visas. According to the Department of Homeland Security, about 850,000 foreign visitors overstayed their authorized stay just in 2022.

DeSantis also vowed to hold Mexican drug cartels accountable by authorizing sanctions on leaders and other entities, as well as strengthening penalties for those who traffic fentanyl and declaring them “transnational criminal organizations.”

“If the Mexican government drags its feet, DeSantis will reserve the right to operate across the border to secure our territory from Mexican cartel activities. If the Mexican government won’t stop cartel drug manufacturing, DeSantis will surge resources to the Navy and the Coast Guard and block precursor chemicals from entering Mexican ports,” the proposal reads.

In addition, DeSantis will impose penalties on sanctuary jurisdictions that “try to thwart federal immigration law” by cutting off “hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to them.”

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