DeSantis Defends Migrant Flights and Takes a Swipe at California

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida on Wednesday defended his state’s sending three dozen Latin American migrants to Sacramento on recent charter flights from the border, saying California had “incentivized” illegal immigration and ought to pay the costs.

“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,” Mr. DeSantis said during his first visit to the southern border since starting his presidential campaign. “They have bragged that they are sanctuary jurisdictions. They attacked the previous administration’s efforts to try to have border security.”

Democratic officials in California, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have said Florida’s taxpayer-funded operation to move migrants to Sacramento could merit criminal or civil charges. They said the migrants, who arrived on Monday and last Friday, were misled into boarding the planes with false promises of jobs before being left outside a church building. In criticizing the flights, Mr. Newsom resorted to unusually personal terms, calling Mr. DeSantis a “small, pathetic man.”

On Wednesday, Mr. DeSantis took a shot back at Mr. Newsom, comparing California’s budget deficit to his own state’s fiscal surplus. “We have a good managed state,” he said at a round-table discussion in Sierra Vista, Ariz., that included law enforcement officials from Florida, Arizona and Texas. Mr. DeSantis was appearing in his official capacity as governor.

Mr. DeSantis has staked out a hard-line position on immigration in the Republican primary, criticizing the policies of both President Biden and, to a lesser extent, former president Donald J. Trump, his main rival for the nomination.

“The border just needs to be shut down,” said Mr. DeSantis, who is making a fund-raising trip to Texas this week. He also reiterated his support for a border wall, adding: “Mass migration just doesn’t work.”

Last month, Mr. DeSantis authorized sending more than 1,100 Florida National Guard members and law enforcement personnel to Texas to serve at the southern border. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, had requested the assistance. Mr. DeSantis led a similar effort in 2021, when he also made a public appearance at the border.

While border apprehensions have hit record highs in recent years, illegal crossings between ports of entry along the southern border have decreased more than 70 percent since May 11, when Title 42, the pandemic-era health measure, was lifted, according to statistics from Customs and Border Protection.

After Mr. DeSantis’s comments in Arizona, sheriffs took turns describing crimes that they said had been committed by undocumented immigrants.

At times, the conversation felt like a campaign event, as the assembled officials, mainly Republicans, praised Mr. DeSantis.

“I’ve worked for a lot of governors,” said Grady Judd, sheriff of Polk County in Central Florida. “Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake about it: This is simply the best governor that the state of Florida has had in the last 50 years.”

Miriam Jordan contributed reporting from New York.

Nicholas Nehamas is a campaign reporter, focusing on the emerging candidacy of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Before joining The Times in 2023, he worked for nine years at The Miami Herald, mainly as an investigative reporter. @NickNehamas

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