MIAMI – While he chaired a group discussion about immigration on Monday at Miami’s American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, Gov. Ron DeSantis said most of the “unaccompanied alien children” crossing the border are “what would be considered in most parts of the world military-aged males” —15 to 17 years old.
DeSantis said President Joe Biden’s border policies mean “more human trafficking, more sex trafficking, and more drug trafficking.” DeSantis sent Florida National Guard troops to Texas and issued an emergency rule to prevent shelters servicing migrant minors to be licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
DeSantis said he is working with the Florida legislature to implement state laws to deter federal government contractors from “dumping people illegally” in Florida, which is “not a sanctuary state for illegal” immigration. He said the contractors are imposing costs on Florida.
“Anybody who is facilitating this can potentially face restitution,” DeSantis said.
Attorney General Ashley Moody said there is “open chaos” at the southern border and federal immigration authorities are not communicating with Florida about the undocumented migrants who are allowed to move to Florida and in doing so they are endangering lives.
“We don’t know who they are bringing here because they are not telling us, so we have repeatedly had to sue our own government,” Moody said.
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said the situation at the Mexican border cannot be compared to Operation Pedro Pan, which brought 14,000 unaccompanied minors from Cuba to Florida in the early 1960s.
“They like to use children as a pawn in this game, but I can tell you from our perspective we are protecting children,” Nuñez said about critics of DeSantis’ policy on shelters.
The Catholic Charities runs a program for minors who have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Federal law requires that the agency to feed, shelter, and provide medical care for unaccompanied children until it is able to release them to sponsors while they await immigration proceedings.
Max Alvarez, the Cuban-American owner of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors who delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention in 2020, said Operation Pedro Pan saved him and other children through a nonprofit organization.
Alvarez said what Rev. Bryan O. Walsh, of the Catholic Welfare Bureau, did to help house him for four years in a home on Biscayne Boulevard had nothing to do with what is happening now.
“These cartels and these drug people are using these kids as merchandise for personal gain … when we came, we came directly into the hands of the church and we were treated like family … Monsignor Walsh is my dad,” Alvarez said.
Carmen Valdivia, the executive director at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, said she also benefited from Operation Pedro Pan. She said she and all of the other children were documented.
Jerry Haag, the president of One More Child, a Christian organization that aims to prevent and rescue children from trafficking, said the best solution is to help children in the Triangle countries Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
“We cannot longer incentivize children to be able to make that journey unaccompanied where they are victimized, they are abused and they are becoming trafficked,” Haag said.
DeSantis, who is running for reelection on Nov. 8, said there is a lot to be done to help minors in Florida too. Jack Brewer, a former American football safety who lives in Broward County, agreed and said inner-city children need help.
“We talk about these kids coming over here, we have to first start as Americans serving each other,” Brewer said, before leading the group in prayer before DeSantis ended the event.
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Read Jan. 26 letter to feds
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