US presidential candidate DeSantis unveils tough immigration plan

Republican leader’s plan calls for ending birthright citizenship and sending US forces to Mexico to combat drug trafficking.

US presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks in Eagle Pass, Texas, about his immigration policy
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, unveiled his immigration plan during a visit to the Texas border community of Eagle Pass, June 26 [Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters]

United States presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has released a blueprint of his immigration agenda, leaning into hardline Republican themes such as ending birthright citizenship and deploying US forces to stem drug trafficking in Mexico.

The Florida governor’s proposal on Monday – his first detailed policy release as a 2024 GOP presidential contender – mirrored many of the policies championed by current Republican frontrunner and former President Donald Trump.

“I have listened to people in DC for years and years and years, going back decades – Republicans and Democrats – always chirping about this yet never actually bringing the issue to a conclusion,” DeSantis told a crowd of about 100 people gathered in Eagle Pass, a Texas border city.

“What we’re saying is no excuses on this,” he said.

The proposal comes as DeSantis seeks to differentiate himself in an increasingly crowded field of presidential candidates in a Republican Party that largely believes hardline immigration policies resonate with its voters.

Trump, who continues to lead the race for the party’s nomination, made immigration a key focus of his campaigns in 2016 and 2020, embracing rhetoric that portrayed immigrants as dangerous invaders and promising harsh measures to restrict migration.

A recent poll found that Trump holds a 29-point lead over DeSantis, an advantage that has grown since the former president was indicted on federal charges earlier this month over his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

Trump, who apparently watched his Republican rival’s appearance on television, described DeSantis’s remarks on Monday as “very boring”.

“The DeSanctus speech was just a rehash of all the things I did to have the ‘safest and strongest Border in US history,’” he wrote on social media.

DeSantis did not mention Trump by name when unveiling his new policies, but his repeated references to the unfinished wall on the US-Mexico border were nonetheless a knock on the former president.

Trump tried and ultimately failed to finish a border wall along the entire 3,140km (1,950-mile) span during his four years in office. Before Monday’s announcement, the DeSantis campaign released new merchandise bearing the words, “Build The Wall. No Excuses.”

Republicans have used immigration to hit out against US President Joe Biden, frequently blaming the Democrat’s administration for an increase in irregular crossings at the border with Mexico.

Last year, DeSantis took credit for sending two flights of migrants and refugees to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a push by Republican leaders to apply pressure on Biden over the crossings. The flights were denounced by rights activists at the time as a “cruel political stunt”.

In his speech on Monday, DeSantis continued to slam the Biden administration, saying it had failed to stop an “invasion” at the border.

His immigration plan also says the US has “the right to operate across the border to secure our territory from Mexican cartel activities”. It calls for the US Navy and the Coast Guard to block chemicals that could be used in the production of drugs from entering Mexican ports if “the Mexican government won’t stop cartel drug manufacturing”.

Other GOP candidates, including Senator Tim Scott and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, have also said they would consider using military force against Mexican drug cartels.

“I’ve said countless times that I’m willing to use our military to annihilate Mexican drug cartels south of our border if necessary,” Ramaswamy said in a Twitter post earlier this month.

Critics have said such actions would violate Mexico’s sovereignty and fail to address the drug overdose crisis that continues to devastate US communities. Republican lawmakers have linked the problem to cartel activity.

“We will use every bit of leverage at our disposal against both Mexico and every power at our disposal against the cartels,” DeSantis said on Monday in Eagle Pass.

“If they are trying to move product into this country and they are killing our people, you don’t only have the right, you have a responsibility to fight back.”

During his tenure as president, Trump reportedly considered trying to end birthright citizenship, the principle that a person automatically gets US citizenship if they are born in the country.

Human rights groups expressed alarm at the time, characterising Trump’s plan as an attack on a fundamental right established in the US Constitution.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies