PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday asked that a statewide grand jury be set up to examine networks that illegally smuggle people into the state as part of an investigation that also would focus on local governments that he says violate state law by adopting "sanctuary" policies.
DeSantis filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court requesting that the grand jury be impaneled.
The Republican governor announced the petition at a news conference with law enforcement agents in Pensacola where he also signed into law a bill that would require county jails to assist federal agents with immigration enforcement and prohibit state and local governments from doing business with contractors who bring into Florida people who are in the U.S. illegally.
DeSantis also said he intended to expand a strike force made up of state and local law enforcement agents that is tasked with stopping trafficking. The concept is being tested in several Panhandle counties.
"We aren't a border state. People are wondering, 'Why are you doing this?,'" DeSantis said. "People will say, 'Let Texas or Arizona worry about that.' Let me tell you, people trying to come in illegally are trying to get to Florida."
If approved, the statewide grand jury would investigate parents who use professional smugglers to bring their unaccompanied children to live with them in Florida, traffickers who smuggle people in the country illegally into Florida and people and organizations that do business with traffickers, either directly or indirectly.
The grand jury also would be charged with investigating local jurisdictions that refuse to honor a request to detain people in the country illegally if they have been arrested for a crime. The governor's petition specifically cites Miami-Dade County as refusing to honor these immigration detainers.
The governor asked that the statewide grand jury be run out of a judicial circuit that covers Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties, an agriculture-heavy region in the interior of the state.
The Florida Legislature in 2019 passed a law banning so-called sanctuary cities but a federal judge last September blocked the state from enforcing it. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the city of South Miami and other organizations against DeSantis. The state is appealing the decision.