Human Rights Defenders Appalled by DeSantis Call for ‘Deadly Force’ on U.S.-Mexico Border

The 2024 GOP presidential candidate’s proposals “wouldn’t advance any real solutions for our broken immigration system,” said one advocate. “Instead, they are all just ugly and unworkable anti-immigrant red meat to keep the MAGA base inflamed.”

By Kenny Stancil. Published 6-27-2023 by Common Dreams

Florida governor and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference near the Rio Grande River in Eagle Pass, Texas on June 26, 2023.. Photo; Ron DeSantis/Twitter

The xenophobic immigration plan that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled Monday as part of his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination was quickly condemned as “dangerous” and “irresponsible” by human rights defenders.

Central to DeSantis’ plan, said America’s Voice, is “white nationalist messaging” that has already proven deadly. Last week, teasing the first formal policy rollout of DeSantis’ 2024 campaign, a spokesperson said, “He will stop the invasion and secure the border once and for all, and there will be no excuses.” Over the weekend, DeSantis’ campaign shared a fear-mongering video and stated that he will “secure the border,” “stop the cartels,” “build the wall,” and “stop the invasion.”

DeSantis officially outlined his plan at a Monday event in the Texas border city of Eagle Pass. He spoke in front of a banner and behind a podium that made “stop the invasion” one of three key slogans of his anti-immigrant agenda, along with “secure our border” and “build the wall.” The proposals put forth by DeSantis are based on racist conspiracy theories and represent an escalation of GOP rhetoric on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Among other things, DeSantis advocated for using “deadly force” against suspected drug traffickers, as The New York Times reported:

“Of course you use deadly force,” Mr. DeSantis said after a campaign event on a sweltering morning in Eagle Pass, a small Texas border city. “If you drop a couple of these cartel operatives trying to do that, you’re not going to have to worry about that anymore,” he added. He said they would end up “stone-cold dead.”

He did not clarify how Border Patrol officers or other law enforcement authorities might determine which people crossing the border were smuggling drugs. He said only that “if someone is breaking through the border wall” while “demonstrating hostile intent or hostile action, you have to be able to meet that with the appropriate use of force.”

As a point of clarification, the newspaper explained that “the overwhelming majority of drugs are smuggled in commercial vehicles coming across official ports of entry, not carried by migrants, according to U.S. border authorities.”

Other elements of DeSantis’ proposed crackdown on immigrants include:

  • Ending birthright citizenship;
  • Deputizing state and local law enforcement officers to arrest and deport migrants and to detain unaccompanied migrant children indefinitely;
  • Detaining all migrants who make unauthorized border crossings until their immigration court hearing, likely requiring a massive expansion of carceral space;
  • Completing construction of the border wall initiated by former President Donald Trump, even deploying U.S. troops to “assist” Border Patrol agents until the project is finished; and
  • Restarting the “Remain in Mexico” program that endangers asylum-seekers.

“Those policies are sure to appeal to conservative voters in the Republican presidential primary contest,” the Times observed, “but they would be likely to run into legal roadblocks and could test the limits of presidential authority.”

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees birthright citizenship, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states cannot enact their own immigration policies that conflict with federal laws.

“The DeSantis policies and plans announced today wouldn’t advance any real solutions for our broken immigration system,” Mario Carrillo, the Texas-based campaign manager of America’s Voice, said in a statement. “Instead, they are all just ugly and unworkable anti-immigrant red meat to keep the MAGA base inflamed and all ‘justified’ by advancing false and dangerous white nationalist rhetoric that has a mounting body count, including in Texas.”

“My hometown of El Paso is still reeling from the mass shooting perpetrated by a white nationalist whose rhetoric is now touted by DeSantis and many more Republicans,” said Carrillo. “Just a few days ago in Pittsburgh, the conviction of the Tree of Life synagogue shooter offered another reminder about the dangers of mainstreaming this rhetoric, while Buffalo recently commemorated their own anniversary of the attack in their city, again by a white nationalist who cited anti-immigrant conspiracies.”

“That the DeSantis campaign is continuing to elevate and mainstream these false conspiracies is dangerous and irresponsible,” Carrillo added, “but not surprising given the type of campaign he intends to run.”

“The policy rollout on Monday suggested that Mr. DeSantis, who is trailing Mr. Trump by roughly 30 percentage points in national polls, was trying to outflank the former president on immigration,” the Times noted. Multiple experts “questioned the viability of Mr. DeSantis’ proposals, suggesting they were driven by the political imperatives of a presidential campaign.”

As governor, DeSantis has been at the forefront of cruel immigration policies.

Last September, he organized flights carrying roughly 50 South American asylum-seekers from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, precipitating a lawsuit and a criminal investigation into whether people were “lured… under false pretenses.” The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office recently recommended criminal charges over the Martha’s Vineyard flights.

DeSantis flew additional migrants to Sacramento earlier this month, prompting California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to threaten him with kidnapping charges.

Last month, DeSantis sent hundreds of Florida law enforcement officers and Florida National Guard members to Texas at the request of the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, who has repeatedly accused President Joe Biden of failing to “secure the border.”

Just days ago, DeSantis “announced a national coalition of more than 90 local sheriffs who said they would band together to fight gang activity and illegal drugs that they argue are the result of the Biden administration’s border policies,” the Times reported.

Ominously, the immigration plan he revealed on Monday says: “If the Mexican government drags its feet, DeSantis will reserve the right to operate across the border to secure our territory from Mexican cartel activities. If the Mexican government won’t stop cartel drug manufacturing, DeSantis will surge resources to the Navy and the Coast Guard and block precursor chemicals from entering Mexican ports.”

According to The Associated Press:

DeSantis was supportive of one audience member who suggested that the situation at the border constituted an “act of war.”

“I think the state of Texas has the right to declare an invasion,” DeSantis told the man. “You’re going to see as president under Article 2 of the Constitution, you have a responsibility and a duty to protect the country. We are going to do that and we are going to do that robustly.”

This makes DeSantis the latest Republican to express support for using military force against cartels south of the border, even though “critics have said such actions would violate Mexico’s sovereignty and fail to address the drug overdose crisis that continues to devastate U.S. communities,” as Al Jazeera reported.

In Florida, meanwhile, DeSantis recently signed a bill that places harsh restrictions on undocumented immigrants and requires the “repayment of certain economic development incentives” if the state, which plans to conduct random audits of businesses, “finds or is notified that an employer has knowingly employed” an undocumented immigrant without verifying their employment eligibility.

The law, which takes effect in less than a week, has pushed thousands of workers to flee the state, eliciting criticism not only from progressive opponents of DeSantis but also some capitalists who otherwise back the far-right governor.

As America’s Voice pointed out, “The DeSantis plan and speech did not highlight the continued array of media coverage detailing the… toll on the economy and communities of the signature Florida anti-immigrant legislation he signed into law.”

Carrillo argued that “the key storylines about Ron DeSantis’ visit to the Texas border shouldn’t just be about his collection of dehumanizing political stunts or the ugly and unworkable policy agenda he unveiled today. They also must include the economic and community harms that DeSantis has inflicted on Florida’s crucial industries and the state’s proud pro-immigrant traditions through his signature immigration bill set to go into effect on July 1.”

“Even before the bill takes effect,” Carillo said, “people are leaving, job sites are emptying, and employers—some of whom are DeSantis supporters—are complaining.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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