A contingent of 50 law enforcement officers from Florida began deploying to the Mexican border Friday, as Gov. Ron DeSantis made true on his vow to heed calls from his fellow Republican governors in Arizona and Texas to help bolster patrols along the country's southern border.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year and is widely considered a potential Republican frontrunner for the White House in 2024, is among a group of GOP governors who have followed former President Donald Trump's hard-line immigration measures, seeking to revive a potent political weapon against Democrats for the 2022 midterm elections. Critics have slammed the move as political theater.
Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in El Paso, Texas, on Friday after being criticized for not having been to the border despite being tasked by President Joe Biden to address the root causes of migration that has brought thousands to the U.S. border.
“I’m glad to be here. It was always the plan to come here, and I think we’re gonna have a good productive day,” the vice president said after arriving in El Paso.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
DeSantis has been vocal in his criticism of President Joe Biden's administration.
“We are witnessing a catastrophe at the southern border under the Biden Administration," DeSantis said in a statement.
Large numbers of migrants have been showing up at the border, many turning themselves over to U.S. Border Patrol agents in hopes of staying to fight asylum cases. But the numbers of families and children traveling without their parents crossing into the U.S. have dropped sharply since March and April while the encounters with single adults have remained high.
DeSantis arrived in the state's Panhandle on Friday to see off some of the departing law enforcement personnel, who will be deployed for 16-day shifts.
“They will get there and they will be ready to go on Monday,” he said, adding that he, too, would soon be headed to the border. “We look forward to being able to see them in action.”
The personnel will be at the disposal of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who issued a call to their fellow governors earlier this month for help — charging that the Biden administration “has proven unwilling or unable” to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. GOP governors in Idaho, Iowa and Nebraska also have vowed to send personnel.
DeSantis did not say where exactly the Florida personnel would be deployed and what duties they would be performing.
The governor tried to blunt criticism that deploying officers elsewhere would leave their communities with fewer law enforcement personnel to patrol the streets at home. DeSantis argued that tightening security at the border would help keep Floridians safer by helping stop the flow of contraband, including drugs, from flowing into his state.
“This has an impact all over the United States,” DeSantis said at his press conference.
Legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the power to enforce immigration law is in the hands of the federal government.
“I understand wanting to cooperate with other states, but it seems to me that addressing what’s happening right here in Florida ought to be a priority,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor, though now a Democrat, who has launched a bid to take on DeSantis in next year’s election. “It seems as though the governor wants to call everything a crisis.”
Overall, there were 180,034 encounters on the Mexican border in May compared with 178,854 a month earlier. Although the numbers are historically high, they are not comparable to previous years because speedy expulsions under pandemic-related powers have translated into people making repeated attempts at crossing.