Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

A specialized unit within the Florida State Guard, aimed at intercepting migrants at sea, received combat training this fall in a Panhandle facility, according to a report by the Miami Herald. The unit has the authority to make arrests and carry weapons under state law.

The Ron DeSantis administration signed a $1.2 million purchase order in August identifying an "immediate and emergent need for specially trained personnel" to address the influx of migrants.

Stronghold SOF Solutions, the chosen vendor, was entrusted with recruiting, vetting, and training volunteers for the specialized unit at its facility in Defuniak Springs, the report showed.

The contract, executed without a competitive process due to a state emergency declaration by Governor DeSantis related to illegal immigration, allowed the specialized unit to undergo rigorous training, including lessons on weapons usage, treating injuries, and "aerial gunnery."

The report was published a day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill authorizing state police to arrest migrants who cross illegally into the United States from Mexico and local judges authority to deport them from the country.

The bill also makes it a crime to reenter or be "at any time found" in Texas after having previously been removed from the country under SB 4 or by federal authorities.

Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott VERONICA CARDENAS/Reuters

The move by Abbott sets up a potential legal clash with the federal government, which generally sets and enforces immigration laws. It is not clear what would be the case if Florida forces adopted a similar stance.

Governor DeSantis, currently a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has consistently emphasized illegal immigration as a significant national problem. His stance includes advocating for allowing U.S. Border Patrol agents to use lethal force against border crossers displaying "hostile intent."

Stronghold SOF Solutions has trained approximately 60 individuals for the specialized unit. However, the deployment status of these members to the Florida Keys remains unclear, particularly as migrant landings in the region have seen a notable decrease in recent months, according to the Miami Herald report.

The state's purchase order justified the agreement with Stronghold citing the inability of the Florida Department of Military Affairs to adequately address the emergency need over immigration. The specially trained personnel were expected to intercept "waterborne migrants" by patrolling the ocean via boat and aircraft.

The training program, designed as a "SOF skill refresher," encompassed weapons training, first aid, tactical casualty combat care, aviation and maritime search and rescue missions, as well as forced entry tactics.

The Florida State Guard, initially revived to support the National Guard, has grown in scope and adopted a militaristic approach under Governor DeSantis, according to the Herald. Activated for the first time in over 75 years after Hurricane Idalia, the State Guard has expanded to 1,500 volunteers. Governor DeSantis seeks further growth, requesting an additional $57 million for the program in the upcoming fiscal year.

The state assigned over $100 million to the program earlier this year, funding planes, boats, and training, despite concerns about its capability to spend such amounts. The State Guard's future missions, including the potential replacement of National Guard members in state prisons, remain open-ended.

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