By Charlotte Cuthbertson
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is looking to investigate and prosecute parents who pay transnational criminal organizations to smuggle their children illegally across the U.S. southern border.
DeSantis filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court on June 17 requesting a statewide grand jury be impaneled for the initial duration of a year.
“The purpose of the grand jury will be to investigate individuals and organizations that are actively working with foreign nationals, drug cartels, coyotes, to illegally smuggle minors—some as young as 2 years old—across the border and into Florida,” De Santis said during a press briefing on June 17.
“This is just wrong what they’re doing and we are going to go after it.”
The grand jury will also investigate the methods smugglers use to transport unaccompanied minors across the southern border and the smuggling or trafficking of other illegal aliens.
DeSantis also announced that the Florida Highway Patrol is expanding its enforcement on smuggling and trafficking corridors into the state.
Since January 2021, the state’s Highway Patrol officers have made over 40 cases of human smuggling involving 150 illegal alien passengers, as well as seized 115 pounds of cocaine, 20 pounds of heroin, 250 pounds of meth, and 272 weapons, according to Florida Highway Patrol Director Col. Gene Spaulding.
“And I can’t emphasize enough that it is just scratching the surface,” Spaulding said.
The grand jury will also investigate local governments that are “aiding this smuggling scheme by intentionally violating our state law against sanctuary jurisdictions,” DeSantis said, referring to cities and counties, such as Miami-Dade, that fail to turn over criminal illegal aliens to federal immigration authorities.
“According to reports from federal law enforcement, however, Miami-Dade County is refusing to honor federal requests to take custody of criminal aliens in Miami-Dade’s detention facilities, including aliens arrested for attempted murder, domestic violence by strangulation, assault with a deadly weapon, and lewd and lascivious behavior on a minor,” the petition states.
During fiscal year 2021, Border Patrol agents apprehended almost 108,000 children under 18 who had crossed the border illegally without a parent or guardian, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
Once apprehended, unaccompanied children are processed by Border Patrol and transferred to Health and Human Services, usually within 72 hours. Health and Human Services then places the child with a sponsor in the United States, pending their immigration court proceedings.
In 91 percent of cases, the child’s sponsor is a family member already living in the United States, often illegally.
Florida absorbed the second-highest number—more than 11,000—of unaccompanied alien children in fiscal 2021, behind Texas. A further 6,659 children have been placed in Florida during fiscal year 2022 so far.
Family members pay thousands of dollars to smuggling organizations to get their children into the United States. In a 2013 case, Patricia Elizabeth Salmeron Santos, who was living illegally in the United States, solicited human smugglers to bring her 10-year-old daughter from El Salvador to Virginia. Santos agreed to pay $8,500.
Almost all unaccompanied minors are being smuggled up from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
A significant portion of the children, especially young girls, are sexually assaulted on the journey, according to court documents and reports by Doctors Without Borders.
“Smugglers often use unsafe vehicles, stay in squalid conditions in stash houses, cross rugged terrain, and expose the children to other harsh environmental conditions,” the petition states.
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