By Jannis Falkenstern
PUNTA GORDA, Fla.—The Florida Supreme Court agreed to impanel a statewide grand jury in response to a petition filed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June to investigate immigration-related criminal offenses, including child endangerment.
“We were able to get the Florida Supreme Court to approve our request to impanel a statewide grand jury. … So, we’re gonna be doing really significant investigation about anybody, any organizations, particularly in Florida, who may be a part of facilitating some of the illegal migration that we see,” DeSantis said on July 19 in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.
“And I think that that’s something that’s very, very significant.”
The petition outlined the governor’s ultimate goal of prosecuting parents for child endangerment as they utilize “transnational criminal organizations or other illicit actors to smuggle their unaccompanied alien children into the U.S., subjecting them to serious dangers.”
The petition states that in the first six months of fiscal 2021, 91 percent of the unaccompanied minors were released to a “sponsoring family member.” However, the petition goes on to state how treacherous a journey it is for the children who are often “assaulted, raped, kidnapped, and/or killed, especially young girls who are sexually exploited.” They’re often used to traffic drugs and weapons and launder money, the petition notes, and the terrain exposes the children to “harsh environmental conditions.”
The petition estimated the number of unaccompanied minor children who entered the United States and were placed with a sponsor in 2021 was 107,686, and so far in fiscal year 2022, that number is 61,143. More than 11,000 were brought to Florida in fiscal year 2021 and so far, almost 7,000 in fiscal year 2022.
“As a mother, protecting children is close to my heart,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement. “We cannot turn a blind eye to traffickers and smugglers exploiting the border crisis to subject children to extremely dangerous conditions.”
The Florida Supreme Court that granted the petition issued an order to impanel a statewide grand jury for a period of 12 months to investigate crime, return indictments, and perform all functions of a grand jury with regard to offenses listed in section 905.34 of the Florida Statutes.
This decision provides examples of the offenses as “(a) parents, guardians, or other family members of unaccompanied alien children who have conspired with transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) or other illicit actors to smuggle, and thus endanger, their children;” and “(c) persons and organizations who are involved, directly or indirectly, in transacting with TCOs, their members, or other illicit actors to smuggle or traffic unaccompanied alien children or other illegal aliens to Florida.”
The Cornell Law School website describes a grand jury as an “investigative body, acting independently of either prosecuting attorney or judge. Criminal prosecutors present the case to the grand jury. The prosecutors attempt to establish probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been committed.”
The Department of Homeland Security reported during fiscal year 2020 that 4.3 percent of the 290,000 unaccompanied minor children who came here between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2019 were returned to their home countries while 95.7 percent were still in the United States. A total of 28 percent of them were granted some kind of relief, while the rest will “live in the shadows of society with the fear of being deported,” according to the report.
“The easiest thing would be for the federal government to just adopt good policies here,” DeSantis said in his statement. “But I think we’ve seen over the last year and a half, that’s not something that they’re typically prone to do. So, we’re gonna continue to fight hard on all these fronts and make sure that we’re vindicating the best interest of the state of Florida.”