DeSantis says he doesn't "have sympathy" for sanctuary states

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis And Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez Hold Coronavirus Briefing

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis defended his state’s recent transport of undocumented migrants from Texas to Sacramento, saying in Arizona on Wednesday that he has no sympathy for “sanctuary states,” or states that limit cooperation with federal immigration agencies, such as California.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said last Sunday the state was investigating potential criminal or civil action “against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants,” suggesting Florida might be implicated.

California Governor Gavin Newsom indicated in a tweet Monday that DeSantis might be charged with kidnapping, and told NBC News Tuesday that the migrants were “human beings used as pawns for a guy’s political advancement.”

“These sanctuary jurisdictions are part of the reason we have this problem — because they have endorsed and agitated for these types of open border policies. They attack the previous administration’s efforts to try to have border security,” DeSantis said, an indirect reference to Newsom’s past critique of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“And then what? When they have to deal with some of the fruits of that, they all of a sudden become very, very upset about that. Well, I don’t have sympathy for them,” said DeSantis, who was participating in a roundtable Wednesday with sheriffs in Sierra Vista, Ariz., close to the U.S.-Mexico border. DeSantis announced an inter-state partnership with several GOP-led states to address migration at the southern border and the spread of fentanyl.

DeSantis, now a presidential candidate, has offered hardline immigration rhetoric and policy ideas, like shutting down the U.S.-Mexico border entirely and completing the border wall (an idea associated with Trump) into his campaign speeches.

“As a Republican, for my entire adult life, I’ve been hearing about this problem at the southern border. I’ve heard a lot of promises about taking care of and ensuring border security for years and years and years. What I can pledge to you to this, when I’m president, we will be the one to finally bring this issue to a conclusion. We’re going to shut the border down,” he said in Manchester, N.H., last week.

He criticized President Joe Biden’s handling of the southern border during the Wednesday event, characterizing the surge of migrants at the border as “a massive dereliction of duty” by the president.

“You’re the president — you would think that you would take a sense of pride in ensuring that the territorial integrity of your country is actually respected,” he said.

On the campaign trail, DeSantis has also been highlighting his deployment of Florida law enforcement to the Texas border, as well as his flight of 49 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in September of 2022. In May, he signed a sweeping immigration bill that allocates $12 million more to this migrant transportation program.

Other Republican presidential candidates, like South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, talk about finishing Trump’s border wall, and others, like former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have held campaign events near the border. DeSantis’ roundtable on Wednesday was organized as a function related to his office, not his campaign.

His roundtable with sheriffs from Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Idaho and Georgia, came days after a chartered flight organized by Florida’s Department of Emergency Management took migrants from Texas to Sacramento.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of State confirmed its involvement in the flights from Texas to Sacramento and sent video of migrants giving verbal and written consent to be transported to California. The state agency said the migrants “made it safely” to a nonprofit funded and used by the federal government, Catholic Charities. CBS News has reached out to the nonprofit for any further information.

In Texas, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office recommended criminal charges Monday over DeSantis’ migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022.

“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new. But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it’s false imprisonment and kidnapping,” Florida’s Department of Emergency Management said in a statement Tuesday.

Attorneys for the migrants transported to Martha’s Vineyard said Wednesday that they’d been in contact with those taken to Sacramento and claimed they were “abandoned at the doorstep of a church without any prior notice to anyone there, just as our Martha’s Vineyard clients were unceremoniously dumped outside a social service agency.”

A debate on who’s the most conservative on this issue is emerging between the Trump and DeSantis campaigns. Trump has promised to end birthright citizenship for children of unauthorized immigrants, while DeSantis has accused Trump of supporting “amnesty” in 2018 through a congressional proposal that would have legalized Dreamers in exchange for border wall money.

On Wednesday, Trump’s super PAC “MAGA Inc.” released a statement pointing out DeSantis’ vote against that 2018 proposal and said he “can’t be trusted to secure the border.”

Camilo Montoya-Galvez contributed reporting.

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