DeSantis doubles down on immigrant flights ahead of expected 2024 bid

 February 16, 2023

Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) is expanding an effort to relocate illegal immigrants to self-described "sanctuary cities," an apparent effort to woo supporters of President Trump before an anticipated 2024 run. 

DeSantis saw backlash in September when he trolled liberals by sending dozens of Venezuelan immigrants to the elite Democrat enclave of Martha's Vineyard.

The exercise was well-received by many on the right, who felt it exposed the hypocrisy of Democrats who support open borders -- just not in their backyards.

DeSantis doubles down

The governor signed a law Wednesday allocating millions of dollars to additional relocation flights under something called the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program.

The law would permit Florida to relocate immigrants located anywhere in the country, an apparent response to critics who questioned the legality of the Martha's Vineyard flights, which relocated about 50 immigrants from Texas.

DeSantis shared an image of the bill signing with a message thanking the Republican-controlled legislature, which passed the measure in a special session.

"Florida is using all tools available to protect our citizens from Biden's open border policies," he wrote in a tweet.

"I am glad to have signed legislation to continue the program of transporting illegal aliens to sanctuary jurisdictions. I thank the legislature for maintaining this valuable tool," he continued.

Shot across the bow

The bill signing comes against the backdrop of an intensifying cold war between DeSantis and former President Trump, the frontrunner in the 2024 Republican primary.

While DeSantis has played coy about his plans, his recent burst of conservative lawmaking -- which also included a proposal Wednesday for a "digital bill of rights" -- suggests a clash with Trump is not far off. DeSantis' doubling down on immigration, Trump's signature issue, is also telling.

DeSantis' bill cites "increased crime, diminished economic opportunities and wages for American workers, and burdens on the education and health care systems" resulting from unchecked illegal immigration.

Primary heats up

Democrats have accused DeSantis and Texas governor Greg Abbott (R) -- who has been sending immigrants for months to "sanctuary cities" like Washington, D.C. and New York in protest of President Biden's far-left immigration agenda -- of politically motivated "human trafficking."

DeSantis is widely seen as the most formidable primary threat to Trump, who takes credit for making DeSantis a political star with a crucial endorsement in 2018.

Trump has vocally attacked DeSantis in recent months, calling him disloyal and a "RINO globalist" with ties to the Republican party's old guard.

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