Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis promised to end birthright citizenship, finish building the southern border wall and send U.S. forces into Mexico to combat drug cartels as part of an aggressive — and familiar — immigration policy proposal he laid out Monday in a Texas border city.
The sweeping immigration plan is the Florida governor’s first detailed policy release as a 2024 contender, and represents a long-established wish list of Republican immigration proposals that largely mirrors former President Donald Trump’s policies. Much of DeSantis’ plan faces tall odds, requiring the reversal of legal precedents, approval from other countries or even an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Still, DeSantis projected confidence on Monday as he slapped at Democrats and Republicans in announcing his new plan, which he detailed further in Eagle Pass, Texas, a community of about 30,000 people set along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“For decades, leaders from both parties have produced empty promises on border security, and now it is time to act to stop the invasion once and for all,” DeSantis said in a statement. “As president, I will declare a national emergency on Day One and will not rest until we build the wall, shut down illegal entry, and win the war against the drug cartels. No excuses. We will get it done.”
The DeSantis campaign has promised to release more detailed policy rollouts in the coming weeks. But in leading with immigration, DeSantis is prioritizing a divisive issue that has long been a focus of the GOP’s most conservative voters. At the same time, voters in the middle and on the left have taken notice as illegal border crossing surged in recent years.
Overall, 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration, according to a recent AP-NORC poll.
Still, it may be difficult for DeSantis to separate himself on immigration from the many other Republicans seeking the 2024 presidential nomination — especially Trump, who’s the front-runner. Immigration was a centerpiece of Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns. And he has sought to make the issue a key strength in his third White House bid.
Trump leaned into the issue while delivering the keynote address to hundreds of enthusiastic religious conservatives at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference in Washington over the weekend. He promised to carry out “the largest domestic deportation operation on the border” and boasted about completing more than 300 miles (or 480 kilometers) of wall along the southern border during his administration while promising to build even more should he win another term.
The former president also vowed to reinstate coronavirus pandemic-era rules known as Title 42 that allowed U.S. authorities to quickly turn back migrants at the border, decrying without evidence “all of the diseases that illegal aliens are bringing in.”
DeSantis did not mention Trump by name when unveiling his new policies, but his repeated references to the unfinished border wall was seen as an indirect slap at the former president, who tried and ultimately failed to finish a border wall along the entire 1,950-mile (3,140-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border during his four years in office.
Ahead of the Monday announcement, the DeSantis campaign released new merchandise bearing the words, “Build The Wall. No Excuses.”
In his plan, DeSantis promises to end the United States’ catch-and-release policy, which currently allows for the release of immigrants in the country illegally until their court dates. That’s as federal immigration authorities have the funding for just 30,000 beds, making it impossible to detain everyone who is arrested.
DeSantis also wants to reinstitute the “Remain in Mexico” policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. Such a plan would need Mexico’s approval.
He’s calling for closing the “Flores loophole,” which, among other things, requires families to generally be released from custody in 20 days. It is part of a federal court order, so it’s unclear how he could close it if elected.
DeSantis is also promising to use military force against drug cartels if necessary. His plan calls for the authorization of “appropriate rules of engagement at the border so that those trying to smuggle drugs into the United States are met with the use of force.”
DeSantis will “reserve the right to operate across the border to secure our territory from Mexican cartel activities,” according to the plan, which also calls for the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard to block precursor chemicals from entering Mexican ports if “the Mexican government won’t stop cartel drug manufacturing.”
DeSantis’ plan says little about the millions of immigrants already living in the country illegally, aside from promising to deport those who have overstayed their visas. Deporting such people has been a challenge that has eluded authorities for decades.
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