Florida governor Ron DeSantis on Monday provided his most detailed plan yet for securing the U.S. southern border with Mexico as he tries to make up ground against Donald Trump in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
At an event in Eagle Pass, Texas, on the Rio Grande river border with Mexico, DeSantis took a swipe at Trump, lumping him with other presidents he said had failed to take action to stem the flow of migrants at the border.
"No excuses on this," DeSantis said. "Get the job done."
DeSantis, who announced his presidential bid last month, has struggled to gain momentum against Trump, the ex-president who is seeking another term in the White House. National opinion polls show DeSantis trailing Trump by more than 20 percentage points.
DeSantis’s border-security plan marked his latest effort to appeal to the party’s hardcore conservative voters in the hope of peeling some away from Trump, who has made illegal immigration a core issue of his presidential bids.
After touting his record as Florida governor for weeks on the campaign trail, DeSantis is slowly rolling out national policy programs. Energy and tax plans are in the offing, he said.
As part of his border plan, DeSantis would end so-called catch and release and would detain migrants crossing the border until their hearing dates; deny entry to any migrant at the border claiming political asylum; and tax remittances from migrants living in the country illegally to pay for the construction of a border wall.
DeSantis also would move to end so-called birthright citizenship, which allows children of migrants born in this country to become U.S. citizens, and allow state and local officials to enforce federal immigration laws.
He vowed as president to employ U.S. law enforcement assets across the border if necessary to stop the flow of fentanyl and other drugs into the United States.
He said he would do as much as possible through unilateral executive action without waiting for Congress to act.
Trump has also pledged to end birthright citizenship and to continue the hardline immigration policies he instituted as president. His campaign on Monday accused DeSantis of "copying and pasting" Trump's policy agenda.
While president in 2018, Trump said he planned to issue an executive order to limit birthright citizenship, but never followed through. Many legal scholars at the time were skeptical that Trump could use executive authority to roll back the right.
At the Texas event, DeSantis contended that the border has become a portal through which migrants from around the world enter and said the influx was straining the budgets of local communities.
"There are people from halfway around the world coming through on this southern border because they know all you got to do is show up in the border and you’re going to get a ticket to come into the interior of the United States," he said.
Ammar Moussa, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, criticized DeSantis's plan, saying it consists of "political gimmicks that are merely an echo of the same cruel and callous policies of the Trump administration that broke our immigration system."
President Joe Biden's administration last week secured a victory before the U.S. Supreme Court when it held that border states could not challenge federal priorities on enforcement of immigration policy.
Speaking with reporters after the event on Monday, DeSantis again defended his use of private planes to relocate migrants from Texas to Democratic-run states such as California and Massachusetts.
"It's been very effective," he said, adding that it "will continue to be used."
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Mark Heinrich)