DeSantis ramps up anti-asylum rhetoric, seeks to intervene in federal policy

‘I think states should be able to step into that void,’ he asserts

By: - December 10, 2021 3:12 pm

Florida Immigrant Coalition photo

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants the Legislature to give him $8 million to ship asylum seekers transported by the Biden administration into Florida off to other states in an expanding initiative against what the governor calls President Joe Biden’s “open borders policy.”

“Its somewhat tongue-in-cheek but it is true: If you sent [them] to Delaware or Martha’s Vineyard or some of these places, that border would be secured the next day,” the governor said during a news conference at Jacksonville International Airport.

“But, instead, they’re imposing the results of their policies on states like Florida, who they love to hate, or whatever,” DeSantis said.

Additionally, the governor wants to:

  • Bar any contractor involved in moving people into Florida from the border from doing business with state or local governments. The ban would apply to “buses, charter planes, what have you — any of those folks who are involved,” he said.
  • Seek restitution from any such contractor for costs to the state — “whether they’re bringing, whether they’re harboring.”
  • Extend the state’s “sanctuary city” ban to local governments that fail to cooperate with state immigration enforcement efforts. The law now applies to federal immigration enforcement.
  • Give the state Department of Economic Opportunity authority to enforce the E-Verify system, which allows employers to confirm that prospective hires are entitled to work in the United States.
  • Bar state agencies from issuing medical and child-services benefits to undocumented people. The agencies and hospitals would be required to report any such expenditures.
  • Make criminal jurisdictions report convictions of undocumented persons to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for posting on a public website.

“If someone’s coming illegally and then they commit a serious criminal offense, that would not have happened had they enforced the law and secured the border. And so, it’s important to know how many of these crimes are easily preventable just by having enforcement of the law,” DeSantis said.

On orders from DeSantis, the Department of Children and Families now has issued a regulation denying licenses or renewals to organizations providing services to “unaccompanied alien children.” He said those kids are using resources he wants reserved for Florida children.

DeSantis, running for reelection next year and perhaps for president in 2024, has been criticizing Biden’s border policies for months, even shipping 50 state police officers to the Texas border town of Del Rio last month to help Gov. Greg Abbott patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.

He’s attacked Biden over mercy flights of undocumented unaccompanied minors to Florida for placement in children’s shelters or with sponsors, and the state has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to end the practice.

DeSantis and other Republican officials have alleged these flights occurred under cover of darkness and without notice to the state, although the feds insist that the state has been in the loop and that many flights landed during daytime, according to a report by CNN.

Administration sources told the news organization that such flights have long been routine, even occurring when Donald Trump, DeSantis’ political mentor, was president.

DeSantis and his allies point to the case of Yery Noel Medina Ulloa, a 24-year-old from Honduras who lied to border agents that he was a minor and was later accused of stabbing to death a benefactor in Jacksonville. Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams accompanied DeSantis to the news conference, as did Larry Keefe, the governor’s new “public safety czar,” and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

The flights have stopped for now, DeSantis said.

No more cages

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a written statement denouncing the governor’s “anti-immigrant and xenophobic agenda.”

“It is essential to protect all children, regardless of the color of their skin, the language they speak, their country of origin, or what situation they find themselves in. Eliminating licensed and child-centered housing harms all unaccompanied minors, including infants and young children, many of whom are escaping trauma, violence, and persecution,” SPLC attorney Anne Janet Hernandez Anderson said.

This criticism is not simply inaccurate: it is unhinged from reality in a way that distinguishes itself from normal political hyperbole.

– Cato Institute

“Gov. DeSantis and the larger white supremacist and anti-immigrant movement, composed of a network of xenophobic legislators and organizations, seek to sanction the horror of exclusively placing unaccompanied children in [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] cages and mass federal shelters by eliminating licensed shelters.”

The governor conceded that the courts have consistently struck down states’ efforts to enforce immigration law as infringing on federal authority.

“Well, that would be fine if they were actually doing their job. But how is it their purview when then they don’t do the job? So, I think states should be able to step into that void, and so that’s what we’re looking to do,” DeSantis said.

Republicans’ overall complaint vastly distorts Biden’s policy, according to an analysis published by the libertarian Cato Institute. “This criticism is not simply inaccurate: it is unhinged from reality in a way that distinguishes itself from normal political hyperbole,” the analysis says.

“Indeed, U.S. immigration policy is effectively closed borders, and Biden’s immigration policies and goals are largely the same as those of President Donald Trump.”

Biden had admitted fewer refugees through Oct. 31 than during the last full year of Trump’s term, according to the U.S. government’s Refugee Processing Center.

Furthermore, his hand forced by a federal judge, Biden has announced plans to revamp Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers, although with greater humanitarian safeguards than Trump ordered.

Still, DeSantis played up the danger of allowing even minors into the country.

“When I was serving in Iraq, we considered, like, a 16- or 17-year-old Iraqi to be a military-age male. And so, they’re effectively minors in that respect, but you have people that are more, you know, advanced,” he said.

“You don’t know who any of these folks are. There’s no documentation. You don’t necessarily know what country. Now, sometimes, like, I was down in Del Rio, you can see, I mean, there’s obviously a difference between someone coming from Guatemala or someone coming from Haiti. You can kinda figure that out. But, at the end of the day, you don’t know,” DeSantis continued.

He highlighted the dangers these children face during their long treks.

“As a father of young kids, I don’t want my kids out of my sight. I would never allow something like that to happen. But you’ve got a lot of bad things going on. The cartels are taking advantage of it, there’s human smuggling, it’s just a really bad situation.

“So, for us to be, as a country, basically facilitating that, it’s really, really bad policy. It’s very hazardous to have somebody who’s that young being illegally crossing international borders, that is just not a policy that we should want to entertain at all.”

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.