DeSantis sends more Florida troops to southern border; Democrats decry it as 'stunt'

'We're going to continue to be in this fight until the problem is solved,' DeSantis says
Posted at 5:02 PM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-23 17:02:14-05

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday the deployment of additional state service members to the southern border. It was part of ongoing efforts to address illegal crossings. The governor personally greeted troops in Pensacola before their departure.

The state is dispatching a contingent of at least 50 Florida National Guard members and 75 Highway Patrol officers to Texas, marking the first significant deployment since DeSantis pledged up to 1,000 Guardsmen on Feb. 1 to assist Texas. Additionally, preparations are underway for the deployment of the Florida State Guard, a civilian force.

"We're going to continue to be in this fight until the problem is solved," DeSantis said.

The governor emphasized the deployment's significance for national security, expressing concerns about potential links between the southern border and future terrorist threats.

"I do think there is going to be a terrorist attack in this country that people are going to be able to link to the southern border, unfortunately," he said. "I wish I didn't believe that, but I don't see how you could have this many people from problematic areas and not something bad happen."

The deployment also serves as a message to the Biden administration. Republicans have repeatedly criticized the White House's handling of record-high illegal crossings, despite the latest January numbers giving a hint of a downturn.

Not all Florida lawmakers support the deployment. House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, has criticized the move, labeling it a misuse of state resources. Driskell suggested Friday that DeSantis should instead focus on advocating for a bipartisan border policy stalled in the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

"My initial reaction is a blatant political stunt by Ron DeSantis," Driskell said. "If he really wanted to do something to help, he could use his dwindling political influence to talk to some of the Republicans in Congress and get them to back down and actually support this good bipartisan bill."

That's unlikely to happen, especially given that Republicans are using the border as leverage in the 2024 election cycle.

Meanwhile, Florida officials have pushed back on criticism of the deployments. Troopers and troops have been traveling to the border since May 2023. Dave Kerner, who heads the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said he's seeing an impact.

"They have been in chases. They have been in fights. They have saved lives…" Kerner, a Democrat and former state lawmaker, said. "When people criticize our defensive tactics to stop illegal immigration, it speaks to me that they don't have the world view of what's really going on in the United States of America."

The state notes previous teams have made contact with nearly 150,000 undocumented and secured 2,700 arrests.

The deployment to Texas is expected to span at least three weeks, with Florida Highway Patrol officers departing from Pensacola and National Guard members scheduled to leave from Plant City.