TALLAHASSEE — Inside a packed room at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in June, Gov. Ron DeSantis talked about the many ways his administration is trying to “keep illegals out of the state of Florida” in response to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
He highlighted a state-led law enforcement operation, which took place June 7-9 in four counties in northwest Florida. When talking about outcomes, the governor’s message was unmistakable: The state was doing its part to combat illegal immigration because it had arrested several “illegal aliens.”
“They were able to recover these illegal aliens and enough fentanyl to kill off 2,000 people in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at the news conference in Pensacola.
What DeSantis did not mention is that the vast majority of the 22 arrests were not related to immigration but rather tied to men and women who live in the country legally. DeSantis also implied that migrants living in the country illegally had been arrested on drug-related crimes, when none was, according to arrest records provided by the Florida Highway Patrol and two of the four sheriff’s offices that participated in the state’s effort.
A review of the records shows seven migrants living in the country illegally were arrested after being pulled over by police for traffic violations — including driving too slow, having excessively tinted windows and having counterfeit registration tags on their vehicles. They were arrested on suspicion of human smuggling when authorities found out they were in the country illegally and were traveling across state lines. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have not responded to a request for information about those seven arrests and the immigration status of those people.
One of the detainees was wanted in El Salvador, his native country, for theft and conspiracy to commit theft, records show. The police report said his family had arranged to pay someone $3,500 to drive him from Texas, where he illegally crossed into the country, to Miami.
By Ana Ceballos
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