Eagle Pass, Texas — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled his immigration plan near the U.S.-Mexico border Monday, a sweeping set of policies that aimed at restricting border crossings, increasing deportations and completing the construction of a border wall.
DeSantis' first presidential policy proposal includes declaring a national state of emergency and reinstating the "Remain in Mexico" policy for asylum seekers, which required certain migrants to wait for their asylum hearings in Mexico. It was imposed by President Donald Trump and ended by President Joe Biden.
The Florida governor said he'd also terminate the "catch-and-release" policy, to keep migrants at the southern border detained until their hearings, as well as the "Flores loophole," which requires children to be released from detention within 20 days.
"We have to establish the rule of law in this country," DeSantis said to applause at the town hall where he announced the proposal. "What you're seeing right now is an abuse of asylum… It's a lot less appetizing to make a trip like that knowing you don't qualify in the first place and you're gonna have to wait on the other side of the border before you get a decision."
DeSantis would also target Mexican drug cartels, declaring them "Transnational Criminal Organizations" and targeting them with sanctions and penalties. He also said he'd "authorize appropriate rules of engagement at the border" against cartels and those smuggling drugs into the U.S.
This "of course" would include deadly force against cartels looking to smuggle drugs across the southern border, he later told reporters during a news conference.
"If you drop a couple of these cartel operatives trying to [smuggle drugs], you're not going to have to worry about that anymore," DeSantis said.
DeSantis and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are the only ones to have held events on the southern border as 2024 presidential candidates. Under Haley's immigration plan, businesses would be required to implement E-verify in their hiring process, government "handouts" to migrants crossing the border would be ended and IRS agents fired. Haley says she would also hire 25,000 new border patrol agents and ICE workers to deal with the overflow of migrants.
But the issue of immigration and the border wall have long been tied to Trump.
DeSantis said he'd use "every dollar available to him" and "every dollar he can squeeze out of Congress" to build a wall along the roughly 600 open miles of the border. He said he also wants more funding for technology and military assistance for border patrol.
DeSantis also wants to end birthright citizenship, the policy that gives children of undocumented immigrants citizenship if they are born in the U.S. and says he would look at using the courts and Congress to push for this.
Asked why he thinks the border wall wasn't completed during Trump's tenure, DeSantis pointed to congressional allies like Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, who was by his side at events Monday, and he repeated that he'd make building it a top priority.
"It requires discipline. It requires focus. It just requires an attention to what the ultimate objective is. And there's going to be things every day that can throw you off course if you let it. We're not going to do that," DeSantis said.
"You did have some wall built during [Trump's] tenure, but not nearly enough… A lot of the things he's saying, I agree with, but I also think those are the same things that were said back in 2016," he added, claiming his plan is "more aggressive" in terms of empowering local officials to enforce immigration law and to target drug cartels.
DeSantis would also penalize organizations or cities that defy his federal immigration rules or aid illegal border crossings.
DeSantis says he'd stop the Justice Department from suing states that are enforcing stricter immigration laws, impose fiscal penalties on "sanctuary" jurisdictions, or places that have policies discouraging disclosure by individuals of their immigration status and end the counting of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Census for apportionment.
As Florida governor, DeSantis has repeatedly criticized Mr. Biden's immigration policies. In May, he signed anthat instituted stricter policies for businesses that hire undocumented immigrants, prohibited the use of out-of-state driver's licenses by undocumented migrants, and mandated the use of "E-Verify" for Florida employers.
In 2022, he sent 49 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts as part of a migrant relocation program that received $12 million more in state funding in May. Florida also sent roughly 1,100 law enforcement officers to Texas' southern border in May.
On Monday, Trump said in a post that DeSantis' trip's "sole purpose… was to reiterate the fact that he would do all of the things done by me in creating the strongest Border, by far, in U.S. history."
"A total waste of time!" he posted.
Cristina Corujo and Emma Nicholson contributed to this report.
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