Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday proposed a series of far-right immigration policies, touting the idea of using deadly force against suspected drug traffickers and others who breach border barriers while « demonstrating hostile intent. »
“Of course he uses lethal force,” DeSantis said after a campaign event on a muggy morning in Eagle Pass, a small Texas border town. “If you drop a couple of these cartel operatives trying to do that, you won’t have to worry about that anymore,” he added. He said they would end up « stick dead ».
It did not clarify how border police officers or other law enforcement agencies could determine which people crossing the border were smuggling drugs. You only said that « if someone is breaking through the border wall » while « demonstrating hostile intent or action, you must be able to deal with them with the appropriate use of force. »
Mr. DeSantis’s proposal served as an escalation of Republican messaging at the border and was part of a series of plans he unveiled in an effort to match former President Donald J. Trump’s hardline immigration stance, which he privately hinted of shooting migrants in the legs during his administration.
Mr. DeSantis said that if elected, he would seek to topple some of the pillars of US immigration law, such as automatically granting citizenship to those born in the United States.
And he said his administration will « completely replace » state and local law enforcement in states like Texas to arrest and deport migrants to Mexico — a power now reserved for the federal government — and to detain migrant children indefinitely. despite a court order imposing severe limits on the practice. He has also promised to put an end to « false asylum claims ».
These policies will certainly attract conservative voters into the Republican presidential primary contest, but they will likely encounter legal hurdles and could test the limits of presidential authority. The Constitution has been held to guarantee birthright citizenship, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states cannot implement their own immigration policies.
And while Mr. DeSantis argued that the country needed tough new immigration rules because current ones encourage dangerous border crossings and the mistreatment of migrant children, some of his proposals could also endanger migrants, including the use of « deadly force » against people cutting through the border wall.
« You do it once and they’ll never do it again, » she said.
His campaign said in a press release that it would follow « proper rules of engagement » and that the rules would apply to « those attempting to smuggle drugs into the United States. » (According to US border authorities, the vast majority of drugs are smuggled in commercial vehicles passing through official ports of entry, not carried by migrants.)
Another plan presented by DeSantis, which would require some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, had previously been employed by Trump, drawing criticism for forcing migrants to live in squalid tent cities where some would be subjected to sexual assault, kidnapping and torture.
DeSantis has made immigration the focus of his campaign, but has presented few details so far. Other policy proposals he released on Monday included:
Deploy the military to “assist” Border Patrol agents until a wall is completed.
Crack down on the activity of Mexican drug cartels, including by blocking precursor chemicals used to make drugs « from entering Mexican ports, » if the Mexican government does not take action to stop the cartels.
Detention of all migrants who cross the border without authorization until the date of the Immigration Court hearing. (Such a policy would most likely require the creation of a vast new prison system.)
« These are ideas that have long been rightfully classified as radical and extremist, » said Aron Thorn, a senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Beyond Borders program.
Monday’s policy rollout suggested that Mr. DeSantis, who is tracking Mr. Trump about 30 percentage points in national polls, he was trying to outrun the former president on immigration. Mr. DeSantis — whose « stop the invasion » language is a hallmark of America’s far right — said he is the candidate most likely to enact conservative immigration policies. He has accused Mr. Trump to « run left », saying that « this is a different guy today than when he ran in 2015 and 2016 ».
But even among voters who came to see Mr. DeSantis Monday at a cinder-and-steel Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Eagle Pass, some said they remained more inclined to vote for Mr. Trump.
« He’s Trump 2.0, but this is not his moment, » said John Sassano, 60, a retired teacher at Eagle Pass who described himself as a former Democrat. « I would like to see him as vice president »
Sandy Bradley, 66, a retired government employee, traveled with two friends from Del Rio, a nearby border town, to hear Mr. DeSantis buy festive cowboy hats at a roadside Walmart. « I think he’ll catch up, » he said, adding that Mr. DeSantis seemed to share his Christian values.
He added that he wanted a candidate who would tackle illegal immigration and « stop all the influx ».
Mr. DeSantis walked directly from the event to a press conference at a ranch along the Rio Grande outside the city where the state of Texas had recently built a wire accordion fence in an area frequently traversed by migrants.
« This is an ongoing issue, » said ranch owner Ruben Garibay. Mr. Garibay, who wore a black cowboy hat and spoke in the shade of a tree as the temperature approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, said he had agreed to host Mr. DeSantis but hadn’t yet decided which candidate to back. « It’s a little early in the game, » he said.
Mr. Trump initially implemented a so-called Remain in Mexico policy, which the Biden administration later reversed. He also proposed ending birthright citizenship during his first campaign, though he didn’t while in office, and he recently renewed those calls as a candidate. And of course, in 2016 he raced to build a wall on the southern border, an issue that helped propel him into the White House.
On his social media site Monday, Trump said DeSantis’ « sole purpose in making the trip was to reiterate the fact that he would do all the things I did to create by far the strongest border in U.S. history. «
As governor, DeSantis dispatched hundreds of Florida law enforcement officers and members of the Florida National Guard to Texas last month, saying President Biden had failed to secure the border, a repeat of a similar effort in 2021 ahead of DeSantis’ re-election campaign.
This year, DeSantis also signed into law a bill cracking down on undocumented immigrants, considered one of the toughest measures in the country. And he announced a nationwide coalition of more than 90 local sheriffs who said they would unite to fight gang activity and illegal drugs that they say are a result of the Biden administration’s border policies. (Only a few of the sheriffs are from border states.)
Some immigration analysts questioned the feasibility of DeSantis’s proposals, suggesting they were driven by the political imperatives of a presidential campaign.
« Most of the proposal is the usual long list of Republican talking points that have not panned out, either in Congress or in the court of public opinion, » said Louis DeSipio, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, citing the idea to end birthright citizenship, among other proposals. « The purpose probably isn’t a serious political debate, but rather to focus on an issue that is a weakness for Biden and a sensitive one for Trump. »
And Jennie Murray, president of the National Immigration Forum, a non-profit group that advocates for immigration policies that address national security and economic needs, highlighted the difficulties in actually carrying out Mr. DeSantis’ plans.
« Deporting huge numbers of immigrants would be costly and extremely damaging, especially during these times of historic labor shortages, » he said.
Miriam Jordan contributed reporting from Los Angeles.