TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — At a Monday morning news conference in Poinciana to “ceremonially” sign the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act into law, Gov. Ron DeSantis discussed border security efforts from his weekend joint briefing in Del Rio, Texas. Following the briefing, DeSantis announced that members of the Florida National Guard will remain in Texas until October 2022.
“We appreciate Texas stepping up where the federal government won’t,” DeSantis said in a statement after returning from Texas. “When Governor Abbott put out the call for help at the border, we immediately answered because we know that the success in Texas is America’s success. Of the individuals our law enforcement have apprehended at the border, more than 70% said they ultimately wanted to go to Florida. To solve this problem, we want to see successful border policies reinstated that President Biden irresponsibly removed. Until then, states are going to have to step up, and I am proud to dedicate Florida resources to help.”
WFLA.com reached out to the White House for a response to the governor’s comments. The administration declined to comment.
In Poinciana, the governor expressed and reiterated his concern over an increase in illegal border crossings beginning after Jan. 20, 2021, and called for President Joe Biden to “secure the border and protect the American people.”
Since June 25, at least 50 Florida officers have been sent to the border. A spokesperson from the Florida governor’s office said a second group was deployed on July 10. Each group of 50 officers deploys for a 16-day service shift. Officers mainly come from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The shift in resources to Texas is making “a real difference in the lives of Floridians,” said the FDLE commissioner, citing state intelligence that some of the criminals were going to Florida amid increases in meth- and fentanyl-related deaths across the Sunshine State.
The officers come to Texas with “mission critical equipment” as they serve in support roles at the Mexico border. The governor said all of the officers deployed to Texas are volunteers.
Rural sheriffs told the governor that “methamphetamines” were the No. 1 issue in the state’s counties. The issue came up in meetings DeSantis said he was having even before Gov. Abbott and Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey made their request for staffing support and resources at the border.
After multiple hurricanes hit Florida hard, the other states came to Florida’s aid through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which includes Texas. In Del Rio, DeSantis cited the assistance Florida received after hurricanes Michael, Irma and Matthew, among other storms, praising the mutual aid, with Florida’s work at the Texas border another example of that cooperation.
Still, the exact number of Florida law enforcement members is remaining private but state officials did confirm that some officers in the first group remained at the border, while some returned home and others deployed.
“We believe Florida is sending more resources than any other state, but we aren’t able to provide a specific number for the safety of our law enforcement members and to protect the security of the missions they are working,” an FDLE spokesperson told WFLA.com.
State officials also say that local agencies, at least 20 of which offered to send support resources throughout the state to cover any potential law enforcement needs during the deployment, have not yet “been needed to backfill for the deployed officers.”
Since their deployment to Texas, FDLE says the effect of the work has been positive.
“Working in Texas, Florida law enforcement officers have assisted with more than 100 criminal arrests for human smuggling, drugs and stolen vehicles,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement from the governor’s office. “From our intelligence, we know some of these criminals were coming to Florida.”
In Texas, DeSantis said that a large percentage of those caught crossing illegally had Florida set as their destinations.
“The people they’re interdicting, when they ask them where your ultimate destination is – these are the Florida guys I’m talking about here – 70% of the people they interdicted said their ultimate destination is to the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’s comments in Poinciana were a follow-up to his recent visit to the border with Mexico as groups of 50 Florida law enforcement officers have been deployed to Texas in shifts to support Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for reinforcements. Sen. Simpson joined the governor in Texas for the border security briefing on July 17, along with Attorney General Ashley Moody.
“Our guys are doing a good job, it’s an important mission, I think they’ve had a positive impact,” DeSantis said in Poinciana. “But the scale is just enormous.”