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(CNN) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to southern Arizona on Wednesday, in what was his first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border since announcing his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The trip also comes a day after Florida assumed responsibility for the two private flights that recently transported migrants from Texas to California.

In Sierra Vista, near the Arizona border, DeSantis justified such flights by blaming California's policies for encouraging the flow of migrants into the U.S. "These sanctuary jurisdictions are part of the reason we have this problem," the governor said. "When they have to deal with some of the fruits of that, they suddenly find that very, very, annoying," he added.

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The event was attended by law enforcement officials from Florida, Texas and Arizona, including Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who has been a persistent critic of President Joe Biden's border stance. The visit also comes after the end of the implementation of Title 42, a border restriction that was imposed at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic and whose suspension led conservatives to forecast high numbers of irregular crossings to the US, which have not yet materialized.

During his remarks, DeSantis suggested that many of the people arriving at the southern border do not have legitimate asylum claims, which he said is only legal in "relatively unusual circumstances." The governor also said the United States should put more pressure on Mexico to deal with people traveling across its borders from South and Central America.


"We have a tremendous amount of influence over Mexico. We have different advantages that we can use and that to me is a no-brainer," he said. DeSantis did not specify what those advantages would be.

DeSantis also stressed that states "have to be more aggressive in some of the things they're doing." He added that it would give states more power to deal with immigration on their own. Courts have historically affirmed that immigration is a federal matter that Congress and the president must oversee.

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DeSantis again prevailed in the heated U.S. immigration debate by conducting a new operation to transport migrants to a Democratic-led state. His government orchestrated in recent days the transfer of more than 30 migrants from El Paso to Sacramento, according to the Florida Emergency Management Administration on Tuesday, which left them at a local church upon arrival in California. Although the Florida agency said these "irregular aliens" were voluntarily resettled, California authorities say they were legal asylum seekers who were deceived with promises of work, clothing and shelter.

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The highly coordinated flights, funded with state money, are an early demonstration of DeSantis' unique position in holding public office over other Republican hopefuls. Many of the contenders in the party are people who are no longer in office and who are limited in their response to the latest headlines or voter fascinations. DeSantis has the resources of the nation's third-largest state to react to Republican priorities and set new standards.

That reality comes to light less than two weeks after DeSantis announced his campaign. His visit to Arizona on Wednesday was organized by his government office, although his campaign promoted coverage of it in advance. On Tuesday, the social media accounts of his political operation released images of DeSantis that day in which he appears signing a law against technology companies over privacy concerns. Earlier this week, DeSantis announced he had sent state officials to help in Iowa following the collapse of the Davenport apartment, a gesture that generated headlines for Florida's governor in the nation's first caucus state.

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DeSantis' moves on immigration also come as he seeks to drive a wedge between Republican voters and the rest of the field by promising to go further than any previous president, including Donald Trump, to end the flow of undocumented people into the country.

"As a Republican, I've heard about the southern border probably my entire adult life," DeSantis told a crowd in Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday. "And I've heard a lot of rhetoric over the years, and here's what I would say: As president, I'll be the one to finally bring this matter to a conclusion. We're going to close the border."

So far, none of DeSantis' rivals have commented on the flights of immigrants who landed in California. Other Republicans in the race have taken advantage of Biden's immigration policies, even though the days after Title 42 expired saw a much smaller influx of migrants than expected.

At CNN's forum on Sunday, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley recounted her recent trip to the border, telling her audience, "I traveled 644 km from that border. They're not prepared for what I saw." He then laid out what he would do to tackle illegal immigration if he reached the White House, including promising to eliminate funding for so-called sanctuary cities and institute a national electronic verification program to check workers' immigration status.

His comments, however, did not elicit anywhere near the same reaction from the left or the media as the private plane that landed in Sacramento a day earlier, the first of two flights to the California capital for which DeSantis later claimed responsibility.

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Gabby Trejo, executive director of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, a nonprofit collaboration of local religious congregations, said migrants who were transported "were lied to and cheated," while California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, called DeSantis a "pathetic, little man" and threatened his Florida rival with kidnapping.

The operation was similar to the two flights the DeSantis administration organized in September that took migrants from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Javier Salazar, a Texas Democratic sheriff whose office is investigating the transfer of migrants to Martha's Vineyard, said Monday he would file charges, though he did not specify which ones.

While the criticism raises new legal questions about DeSantis' controversial operation, they also help keep him in the spotlight even as the GOP presidential field grows. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum this week announced their own White House aspirations.

DeSantis has an eight-figure budget to organize more flights and his administration recently hired three companies that are on standby, ready to deploy planes and buses. It also sent 400 members of the Florida National Guard to Texas, as well as representatives of state law enforcement to help patrol highways and waterways.

Beyond immigration, DeSantis also has new powers to go after companies for hosting drag shows that admit minors, doctors who provide gender-affirming treatments to children and banks that refuse to lend to gun manufacturers. Unlike Trump, Pence and others, DeSantis can also reconvene lawmakers to special sessions to address unforeseen issues, as he has done repeatedly over the past two years.

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After signing a bill that allows him to remain governor while running for president, DeSantis made clear that he does not intend to relent in his efforts to exercise his executive powers while campaigning for the White House.

"Leadership is not about signaling virtues or building a brand," DeSantis said over the weekend in Iowa. "Leadership is ultimately about results and that's what we do in the state of Florida."

U.S.-Mexico BorderImmigrationRon DeSantis