DeSantis seeks statewide grand jury to probe ‘illegal’ immigration, drug trafficking

By: - June 17, 2022 4:29 pm

Florida Immigrant Coalition photo

Gov. Ron DeSantis launched an election-year crusade against illegal immigration on Friday, announcing creation of a state-local task force to intercept human and drug trafficking into the state and calling for a statewide grand jury to investigate the problem.

During a news conference in Pensacola in which uniformed sheriff’s deputies and Florida Highway Patrol officers flanked the governor, DeSantis blamed the Biden administration for the “open borders” policy for an alleged influx of drugs, human trafficking, and gun running.

Gov. Ron DeSantis flew to Texas on July 17, 2021, to discuss border security, along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and others attended the discussion in Texas. Credit: Screenshot, KXAN News.

The Florida Supreme Court is empowered to convene statewide grand juries at a governor’s request for terms of up to one year and extendable by six months.

The last time was in February 2019, early in DeSantis’ term and following the 2018 murders of 17 students and staff at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

“The purpose of the grand jury will be to investigate individuals and organizations that are actively working with foreign nationals, drug cartels, coyotes to illegally smuggle minors, some as young as 2 years old, across the border and into Florida,” DeSantis said Friday.

“The grand jury will also investigate local governments that are aiding this smuggling scheme by intentionally violating our state law against sanctuary jurisdictions,” he continued, referring to police agencies that decline to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

According to his Supreme Court petition, the federal government placed 11,145 unaccompanied alien children in Florida during federal fiscal year 2021 and 6,659 thus far this year.

“The federal government confirmed in an Oct. 20, 2021, letter that at least 5,990 single illegal alien adults who were released at the southern border have reported to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in Florida between January and August 2021,” the petition says.

“This number likely vastly underreports the number of illegal aliens entering the United States from the southern border who have resettled in Florida because many enter without inspection and even those who are released at the border and directed to report to an ICE office fail to do so.”

Coordinated attacks

The news conference, staged at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, followed the template for these events as the governor runs for reelection in November: Coordinated attacks on President Joe Biden over the economy, inflation, and now border policy.

Backing up DeSantis were Larry Keefe, his top adviser on public safety; Col. Gene Spaulding, director of the Florida Highway Patrol; Mark Glass, interim director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; statewide prosecutor Nick Cox; and Ginger Bowden Madden, state’s attorney for the First Judicial Circuit, which includes the four Panhandle counties.

Keefe claimed that: “The Biden administration has abandoned its constitutional responsibility and has violated its sworn duty by ordering our federal immigration enforcement agents on the Mexican border to stand down and to not do their duty.”

President Joe Biden. Credit: Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool | Getty Images

It’s true that Biden has attempted to reverse some of the more extreme enforcement programs installed by President Donald Trump while retaining programs enforced by former presidents of both parties, according to a PolitiFact analysis.

The courts thus far have frustrated Biden’s attempts to drop enforcement of Title 42 at the border, a public health measure the Trump administration deployed to crimp crossings because of COVID. Meanwhile, Biden’s team has been redeploying immigration agents to the Mexican border among other enforcement efforts.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to pursuing every avenue within our authority to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and stay true to our values. Yet a long-term solution can only come from comprehensive legislation that brings lasting reform to a fundamentally broken system,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a written statement on April 1.

Also on Friday, DeSantis signed legislation (SB 1808) denying state contracts to transport companies including air charters that convey “unauthorized” aliens into the state for the federal government. It also requires county sheriffs to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement regarding undocumented immigrants in custody.

In addition, the Florida Department of Children and Families has proposed a rule threatening operating licenses for shelters that house immigrant children the feds might settle in the state.

Transport of these aliens by bus and charter flights appears to have slacked off, DeSantis said.

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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. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.