Governor of Florida
Ron DeSantis, a former congressman for Florida’s 6th district, was elected governor of Florida by only a 0.4-percent margin when he first ran in 2018. But after establishing himself as a staunch opponent of COVID-19 shutdowns and mask mandates, as well as a savvy political showman on divisive cultural issues like LGBTQ education in elementary schools, he carried almost 60 percent of the vote in his landslide reelection victory in 2022. In May 2023, he announced his candidacy for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, for which he’ll have to go head-to-head against his former ally Donald Trump.
DeSantis tends to use immigration as an area to create alignment with his base and capture media attention, rather than pursuing major policy changes. When he served as a congressman, the only piece of immigration-related legislation he sponsored was a 2015 bill that sought to bar refugees from “terrorist-controlled” countries unless they were vetted by the DHS, FBI, State Department, and Department of Defense — despite the fact that each of those agencies is already involved in vetting every refugee applicant. But the bill rode on fears that extremists were hiding among the exodus of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War, a panic that ratcheted up after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
More recently, DeSantis has borrowed many of his showiest immigration moves from the playbook of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. He has followed Abbott’s lead by banning “sanctuary cities” in Florida; refusing to renew the licenses of state facilities that house unaccompanied migrant children until they can be placed with family or foster care; and targeting transportation companies that contract with the federal government to relocate migrants between facilities. Most famously, DeSantis latched onto Abbott’s campaign to bus migrants to northern cities when he organized a flight that transported 50 migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, an island with an image as a tourist destination for wealthy Democrats. Although Florida is 900 miles away from the U.S. border with Mexico, DeSantis claimed that he recruited Venezuelan migrants in Texas to prevent them from traveling to Florida.
In May 2023, DeSantis went one step further than his Texas counterpart, signing into law a bill that expanded the state’s E-Verify work authorization mandates, overturned a 2014 measure that allowed undocumented immigrants to practice law in Florida, and required hospitals to question patients about their immigration status. Although strict, the final bill was significantly softened from an earlier version that sought to make E-Verify mandatory for all employers, and made it a felony to house, hire, or transport an undocumented immigrant.
In the 2022 midterms, DeSantis won the approval of not just Florida’s powerful, Republican-leaning Cuban American voting bloc, but the majority of Latino voters, including historically Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans. He also flipped multiple counties that were long seen as solidly blue. Although President Biden won in Miami-Dade county in 2020 with 53.4% of the vote, DeSantis won reelection there by 55.3%, becoming the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to win the county in two decades. Commentators have pointed to his sweeping victory as a sign that he might be able to go toe to toe with Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.