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Florida spent nearly $600,000 on U.S. border visit

DeSantis’ office initially said the state would seek reimbursements for the costs. But it appears Florida taxpayers will end up footing the bill for the mission.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, hold a news conference in Del Rio, Texas, in July to talk about a three-week effort to enforce the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, hold a news conference in Del Rio, Texas, in July to talk about a three-week effort to enforce the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. [ ANA CEBALLOS, Times/Herald ]
Published Nov. 10, 2021|Updated Nov. 29, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement spent more than half a million dollars to send law enforcement officers to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas over the summer, a mission that was spearheaded by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a frequent critic of President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

The cost of the mission for the agency — in total $570,988 — covered the salaries of dozens of state personnel, their travel costs, as well as supplies and equipment used during a weekslong stint at the border, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

DeSantis’ office initially said the state would seek reimbursements for the costs. But it appears Florida taxpayers will end up footing the bill for the mission, which Democrats have called a political stunt aimed at bolstering the governor’s national stature.

The governor’s office defended the use of state resources at the border, however, arguing that the state “has to step up whenever possible to mitigate the impact of the Biden border crisis.”

“Florida taxpayers are footing an enormous bill for Democrats’ destructive open-borders agenda. The costs of illegal immigration to Floridians are thousands of times more than $570,000,” DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, said in a statement.

While in Texas, state law enforcement officers made contact with 9,171 undocumented immigrants, Pushaw said. Just over 3 percent of those contacts resulted in a criminal arrest, according to data provided by Pushaw.

In a June 25 news release, the governor’s office said the state would be able to seek reimbursements for the mission because it was done under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a partnership among all states to provide mutual aid. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the plan was to seek reimbursements. And in July, Pushaw reiterated that the state that requests assistance usually reimburses other states for travel costs.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, however, told the Times/Herald in July that states who sent law enforcement to Texas under the mutual-aid agreement would be doing so “at their own expense” and would not be reimbursed.

While visiting the Texas-Mexico border in July, DeSantis and other state officials said the mission was still a worthwhile use of state funds. DeSantis added that the cost of the mission — a total that was still being tallied at the time — was within the state’s means.

“Obviously, we are doing this within an existing budget,” he said. “We’re making sure that all our priorities are met. We have a lot of stuff going on in the state.”

What Florida taxpayers paid for

For about two months, dozens of state law enforcement officers were stationed in Del Rio, Texas, as part of what became known as “Operation Lone Star.”

They assisted Texas law enforcement, not U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and patrolled the area with airboats, off-road vehicles and aircraft. The mission started June 26 and ended Aug. 14. In total, 74 state law enforcement officers participated.

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In that time, Pushaw said state law enforcement officers had “contacts” with 9,171 undocumented migrants. That included:

▪ 311 criminal arrests,

▪ 79 human smuggling cases,

▪ 16 stolen vehicle cases,

▪ 43 narcotics cases,

▪ 4 drug seizures.

It is unclear if state law enforcement officers remained in Texas in September, when a surge of migrants caught Department of Homeland Security officials off guard.

At its peak, there were close to 15,000 migrants in Del Rio camping out underneath the bridge that connects the southwestern Texas city with Ciudad Acuña in Mexico. The majority of the migrants were Haitian, with families accounting for about two-thirds of the asylum-seeking population.

While many migrants were expelled under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public-health law known as Title 42, thousands of individuals at the time were released or paroled into the United States as they waited to have their cases heard by an immigration judge to determine whether they would be allowed to remain in the United States.

Political tension at the border

The situation at the border has become a political wedge issue in Florida, and has been amplified by DeSantis as he runs for reelection heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

Since sending state law enforcement to the border, DeSantis has signed a broad executive order, which among many things, encourages state law enforcement officers to pull over drivers who may be transporting migrants into Florida if there is “reasonable” suspicion of a crime.

The executive order also prohibits state executive agencies from assisting the federal government in transporting migrants from the southwestern border to Florida. But it is unclear if any agencies have acted in response to the order, which was issued in late September.

At a Jacksonville news conference Wednesday, DeSantis suggested that if migrants are being transported to Florida he would be willing to “provide buses” to send them elsewhere.

“I will send them to Delaware and do that,” DeSantis said in an apparent jab at the state Biden considers home. “I mean, if he’s (Biden’s) not going to support the border being secure, then he should be able to have everyone there.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody has filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration over its immigration policies. Moody alleges many of the migrants the Biden administration has “illegally released” will come to Florida and will cost the state money.

“The Biden administration’s illegal border policies cause Florida harm,” according to the 23-page complaint filed in federal court in Pensacola.

Pushaw said Wednesday that “it’s impossible to put a price tag on the broader harms of the Biden border crisis” but that “in terms of dollars, illegal immigration has an astronomical cost.”

(Editor’s note: This article was updated Nov. 29 to correctly reflect that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement spent $570,988 on the border mission in Texas. The total cost for all Florida law enforcement personnel who deployed was $1.6 million.)

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