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Ron DeSantis tours the Texas border ahead of rolling out his immigration platform

In the coming weeks, the Florida governor's presidential campaign plans to shift from highlighting his work in Florida to more frequently criticizing President Joe Biden.
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EAGLE PASS, Texas — Amid sagging national poll numbers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis toured part of the Texas border Sunday as he prepared to roll out new immigration policy proposals and justify sending hundreds of his state’s personnel to help manage a migrant influx.

DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo said the campaign plans to shift in coming weeks from highlighting his success in Florida to taking more direct aim at what it sees as President Joe Biden’s failures. 

“Joe Biden’s open border policies have destroyed our sovereignty,” Romeo said. 

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Washington on June 23, 2023.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Washington on June 23, 2023.Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA via AP

On Monday, DeSantis will release his plan to secure the border, which will be the first formal campaign policy of his presidential run. 

DeSantis has increasingly attacked his main rival, former President Donald Trump, on immigration. But so far, those jabs have failed to gain traction: A new NBC News national poll found 51% of Republican primary voters picked Trump as their first choice in the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, while DeSantis drew just 22%. Trump has widened his lead since DeSantis’ glitch-filled campaign launch last month

On Friday, DeSantis reiterated a typical part of his stump speech in his remarks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, D.C.

“I will finally be the president to bring the issue of our open southern border to a conclusion,” he said. “On day one, we declare a national emergency. We mobilize all the assets, including the military.” 

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, responded by listing what it says are more than 100 “major reforms” related to immigration that were instituted during his administration, including a high number of deportations and implementation of the pandemic-era border restriction known as Title 42. 

On Friday, Trump told the audience of Christian conservatives at the conference that he would sign an executive order ending automatic citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. 

“We had the most successful and strongest border in American history,” Trump said.

DeSantis made a separate border trip this month to Arizona, but that was billed as an official state visit, not a campaign stop. This visit to Texas will include a stop at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall Monday to speak with voters.

In May, DeSantis announced that he would send 1,100 personnel to the Texas border. More than 400 members of the Florida National Guard are deployed there; they’re spread across roughly 500 miles from Eagle Pass to Brownsville, said Amelia Johnson, a deputy director with the Florida Division of Emergency Management. 

DeSantis’ office announced this month that the Florida teams had encountered more than 5,800 undocumented migrants and helped the Texas Department of Public Safety with more than 190 arrests, in cases including felony charges connected to drugs, weapons and human smuggling. 

During an aerial tour of Eagle Pass with NBC News on Sunday, Lt. Donny Kindred of Texas DPS acknowledged that, from his vantage point, the number of unauthorized border crossings has gone down since Title 42 was lifted. But he did stress that numbers are significantly higher than they were several years ago.

“This is not a secure border,” he said. “Anybody that thinks this is a secure border is delusional.”

Another Texas DPS official, Lt. Chris Olivarez, said that there had been an uptick in the area surrounding Eagle Pass and Del Rio in the last few days — and that troopers and Border Patrol agents had been encountering 1,000 to 1,200 migrants a day.

Kindred said the Florida personnel were supplementing Texas Highway Patrol troopers near the border and miles inland, searching for smugglers making their way through the brush.

In Eagle Pass on Sunday, new razor wire put up by Texas DPS greeted a group of migrants, most of them Venezuelan, who had waded across the Rio Grande. A man who held a young child on his shoulders begged for help and shouted out in desperation. He said he’d had trouble scheduling an appointment on the app run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to cross the border and begin the asylum process. 

The group was turned away to Mexico — unable to reach U.S. soil.

Migrants crossing Rio Grande
A group of migrants, most of them Venezuelan, who waded across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Sunday.Andy Vigañas/NBC News

While U.S. border authorities encountered more than 2 million migrants last fiscal year — a record — the latest figures provided by CBP paint a more nuanced picture. 

They show that southwest border encounters dropped by 24.6% in May compared to April. The Biden administration’s critics had warned that border encounters would go up sharply when Title 42 lapsed on May 11. While there was a brief spike in the numbers in the days leading up to the end of Title 42, they dropped significantly for the rest of the month.

But even before the end of Title 42, the numbers had been declining. According to the CBP figures, overall encounters across the entire border had been down 10% in April compared to the previous to the previous year — although sharp increases in the El Paso and Tucson, Arizona, sectors dominated headlines at the time. Back in December, border encounters overall were up 30.1%, including a staggering 186.4% rise in the El Paso sector.

CORRECTION (June 26, 10:40 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when there was a brief spike in the numbers of border encounters. It was in the days leading up to the end of Title 42, not the days immediately after.