MIAMI – While chairing a panel discussion on immigration Monday at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami, Gov. Ron DeSantis said most “unaccompanied foreign children” crossing the border are “what would be considered in most parts of the world military-older men” — 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 serving migrant minors from being licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

DeSantis said he was working with the Florida Legislature to implement state laws to deter federal government contractors from “illegally dumping people” in Florida, which is “not a safe haven state for illegal immigration”. He said contractors are imposing costs on Florida.

“Anyone who facilitates this can potentially face restitution,” DeSantis said.

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Attorney General Ashley Moody said there was “open chaos” at the southern border and federal immigration authorities were not communicating with Florida about undocumented migrants allowed to settle in Florida and in doing so, they were putting lives at risk.

“We don’t know who they’re bringing here because they don’t tell us, so we had to sue our own government a number of times,” Moody said.

Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez said the situation on 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 kids as a pawn in this game, but I can tell you from our perspective that we’re protecting kids,” Nuñez said of criticism of DeSantis’ shelter policy.

Catholic Charities operates 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 the agency to feed, house and provide medical care to unaccompanied children until it is able to release them to sponsors while they await immigration processing.

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Max Alvarez, the Cuban-American owner of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors who spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2020, said Operation Pedro Pan saved him and other children thanks to an organization in non-profit.

Alvarez said what the Reverend Bryan O. Walsh of the Catholic Welfare Bureau did to help house him for four years in a house on Biscayne Boulevard had nothing to do with what is happening now.

“These cartels and drug dealers are using these children as commodities for personal gain…when we arrived, we fell right into the hands of the church and were treated like family… Monsignor Walsh is my father,” Alvarez said. .

Carmen Valdivia, executive director of the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, said she also benefited from Operation Pedro Pan. She said she and all the other children were documented.

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Jerry Haag, president of One More Child, a Christian organization that aims to prevent and save children from trafficking, said the best solution was to help children in the Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador .

“We can no longer inspire children to be able to take this journey unaccompanied to where they are victimized, abused and trafficked,” Haag said.

DeSantis, who is running for re-election Nov. 8, said there is also a lot to be done to help miners in Florida. Jack Brewer, a former American football safety guard who lives in Broward County, agreed and said the inner-city kids needed help.

“We’re talking about these kids coming here, we have to start as Americans in service to each other first,” Brewer said, before leading the group in prayer before DeSantis ended the event.

Watch the discussion on Facebook Live

Read the January 26 letter to the federal authorities

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