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DeSantis claims he'd only use deadly force at the border against those who appear to be cartel members

DeSantis attempted to clarify his vow to leave people crossing illegally "stone cold dead" during an interview on the "CBS Evening News."

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said he'd leave Mexican drug cartels trying to cross the border into the U.S. "stone cold dead" if he's elected president. 

That promise appears to be aimed specifically at GOP primary voters, especially that phrase, which a DeSantis-aligned super PAC has already made the center of a campaign ad.

Critics quickly accused DeSantis of advocating for the extrajudicial killings of unarmed immigrants, a civil felony by federal law under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991.

DeSantis attempted to clarify his position during an appearance on the "CBS Evening News" on Tuesday, saying that his plan was not to kill all migrants crossing the border illegally. He suggested his plan was to authorize the military to only kill a few "Mexican drug cartels" as a deterrent to prevent future cartel members from crossing the border.

"There’s not going to be authorization to just shoot somebody like that, but when somebody’s got a backpack on and they’re breaking through the wall, you know, that’s hostile intent and you have every right to take action under those circumstances. And guess what, you do that a few times, the times are a-changin’, they will have to respond to that,” DeSantis said.

He went on, appearing to suggest that deadly force would only be authorized against people who "appeared" to be drug cartels, though he offered little explanation as to how such people would be identified.

“Cartel members, I mean, you have to identify them as being hostile. I mean, if there’s, if there’s a woman with a baby, they’re not a cartel member, there’s not going to be authorization to just shoot somebody like that,” DeSantis said.

As Politico pointed out, DeSantis' background as a military lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps makes it all the more questionable for him to claim that shooting people crossing the border wearing backpacks is allowed by rules of engagement.

DeSantis also said that he'd be open to launching missiles into Mexico to combat drug cartels, a move former President Donald Trump proposed repeatedly during his presidency, according to a memoir from his former Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. 

Trump ultimately backed down because of potential legal complications and fears of a resulting surge in asylum claims at the border.

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