TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday he will send state law enforcement officers to the southern border in Texas, a tactical maneuver that will test how far the state will go to help enforce immigration law as the Republican governor prepares to launch a presidential campaign.
The governor’s office said hundreds of state troopers, police and Florida National Guard members, plus boats and planes, are ready to head to the border as early as Wednesday. The mission is expected to last 31 days and will consist of three separate endeavors, according to a copy of Texas’ request to Florida for help.
“Texas is requesting assisting states absorb associated costs with this mission in support of the entire country,” states the request, which was sent on Tuesday.
Florida has been asked to help Texas officers “deter, detect and interdict criminal activity” along its 1,250-mile southern border. The specific locations will be determined by the Texas Military Department, but records show they could include El Paso, Del Rio and the Rio Grande Valley sector.
During the mission, Texas will give Florida state law enforcement officers and guardsmen “the same arrest and law enforcement powers, rights, and privileges while operating within the state limits of Texas as are ordinarily afforded law enforcement forces of the State of Texas,” records show.
“While Biden ignores the crisis he created, Florida stands ready to help Texas respond to this crisis,” DeSantis said in a statement.
But what DeSantis portrayed as a robust state action was dismissed as routine by Department of Homeland Security officials.
A Department of Homeland Security official noted that enforcement of immigration laws is the responsibility of the federal government. Any interaction by state-level troops with migrants encountered at the border would be in conjunction with and in service of the department, the official said.
DeSantis’ response comes at a time when political tensions over immigration are particularly inflamed, with the expiration of a pandemic-era rule known as Title 42 that the Trump and Biden administrations used to control the flow of migrants coming to the U.S. through Mexico. While a surge in migrants has not happened as of Tuesday, border patrol officials have feared that ending the policy could increase migrant encounters at the southern border in the near future.
DeSantis made the announcement after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to the nation’s governors on Tuesday asking them to help support Texas’ “unprecedented border security efforts.” Abbott made the request under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a mutual-aid partnership among all states.
In that letter, Abbott noted that Idaho Gov. Brad Little and DeSantis had already offered resources.
“I thank these states for proactively addressing this crisis and request other states follow their lead in helping to secure America’s border,” Abbott wrote.
The governor’s critics, however, are calling the response a “political stunt.”
“What an irresponsible waste of critical state resources by DeSantis for his own performative national politics. Honestly not sure we’ve ever seen such intellectually dishonest leadership in Tallahassee,” former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly posted on Twitter.
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The issue of immigration, a powerful motivating issue for Republican base voters, has been a driving policy issue for DeSantis as he increasingly blames the Biden administration for the situation at the border.
“This is something that is the responsibility of Joe Biden. This is a responsibility that he has defaulted on really from day one of his presidency,” DeSantis said last week. “Obviously if we had a different administration, it would be a lot easier to actually deal with the problem at its source.”
This year’s mission will not be the first time that DeSantis has sent assets to help Texas officers respond to immigration issues. In the summer of 2021, he spent at least $1.6 million to send dozens of state law enforcement officers on a weeks-long border mission in Texas.
The seven-week trip, led by three state agencies, was cast by the Republican governor as a needed measure to beef up security at the border amid the failures of Biden’s administration, while critics saw the effort as a state-funded political stunt.
While in Texas, state law enforcement officers made contact with 9,171 immigrants in the country illegally, the governor’s office said at the time. Just over 3% of those contacts resulted in a criminal arrest, according to data provided by the governor’s office.
A large portion of the 2021 mission was done out of Del Rio, Texas.
Earlier this year, DeSantis also declared an emergency and deployed state resources to help patrol the waters surrounding the Keys after there was an influx of migrants who made their way to the southern island chain.
Alecia Collins, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the Texas deployment is not expected to impact the state’s migrant enforcement operations in the Keys.
“While supporting the Texas efforts the Division will continue to maintain a robust presence in the Keys,” Collins said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “Only 4 individuals from the Keys mission have been directed to Texas.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Eleanor Dearman contributed to this report from Austin, Texas. McClatchy White House Correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.