IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ron DeSantis makes a surprise visit to the southern border

The Florida governor will meet with law enforcement officials in Arizona as he increasingly leans in on immigration in the campaign to distinguish himself from Trump.
WILDWOOD, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - JUNE 6: Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens to a speaker during a press conference during which he signed a bill to protect the digital rights of Floridians, on June 6, 2023 in Wildwood, Florida. Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be meeting with law enforcement officials in Sierra Vista, Ariz.Paul Hennessy / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will make his first trip to the U.S. southern border as a presidential candidate Wednesday, thrusting himself into the increasingly volatile immigration debate as the Republican field in the 2024 campaign grows. 

DeSantis will meet Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels and other law enforcement officials in Sierra Vista, according to Jeremy Redfern, the governor's press secretary. Like DeSantis, Dannels has been an outspoken critic of President Joe Biden’s border policies.

DeSantis is visiting as the immigration battle intensifies during the start of the GOP primary campaign. He has been staking out a position to the right of former President Donald Trump, whose focus on immigration in his first campaign in 2016 and during his presidency endeared him to his conservative base. 

DeSantis repeatedly praised Trump for his border policies — notably in a tweet in 2021 — but he has recently sought to contrast himself with Trump, arguing that the former president did not do enough during his four years in office to strengthen border security.

The pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc. highlighted this tweet in its statement about DeSantis' trip to the border Wednesday.

"President Donald Trump’s immigration policies kept Americans safe, just ask Ron DeSantis," the statement read.

A Florida official confirmed Tuesday that the state arranged for migrants to fly to Sacramento, California, over the last week, following days of accusations from California leaders. A spokesperson for Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said in a written statement that the migrants all went of their own free will, stating, “Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom told NBC's "TODAY" show Tuesday that he believes Florida officials committed crimes in sending the migrants to his state and that he will be investigating the matter. 

DeSantis has not commented on the most recent flights, but on the campaign trail he has touted other controversial migrant relocations last year that Florida helped arrange from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy vacation spot in Massachusetts. Last month, he signed a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigration that the Republican-led Florida Legislature passed that included $12 million for similar migrant relocation flights. 

DeSantis’ surprise trip to Arizona — a crucial swing state — follows stops in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Later this week, he is scheduled to attend several fundraisers in several Texas cities, stop in Oklahoma and speak at the North Carolina Republican Party convention, before he heads to Nevada next Saturday.

The Biden administration has faced backlash from even Democratic mayors of large cities — most notably Eric Adams of New York — for the recent influx of migrants, which has strained shelter space across the country. 

The number of border apprehensions over the past year has been at record highs. But the latest figures from Customs and Border Protection show that apprehensions have dropped more than 70% since the end of Title 42, the Covid-era health policy that made it easier for the federal government to expel asylum-seekers. 

Critics of the Biden administration had warned that the opposite — a massive new influx of migrants at the border — would happen after the policy ended. While there was an uptick immediately after Title 42 ended on May 11, the numbers quickly leveled off and then fell drastically. 

Cochise County — a historic mining region in the Old West that includes the site of Wyatt Earp’s notorious gunfight at the OK Corral — now hosts another battle, this time over immigration. It’s become a welcome place for conservative politicians to sound off about what they see as weak border policies.

In recent years, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and unsuccessful Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake have had photo-ops in the area. DeSantis has not traveled here before, but he did send law enforcement personnel to Arizona in 2021 at the request of the governor, his office said.

Separately, DeSantis sent more than 1,100 Florida National Guard members and law enforcement personnel to Texas last month to help with Operation Lone Star, a border initiative led by Gov. Greg Abbott.