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Florida's arrest of undocumented van driver escalates Mexico's tensions with DeSantis

Syra Ortiz Blanes and Ana Ceballos, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — The arrest of a Mexican national accused of transporting undocumented migrants into the state is aggravating relations between Florida and Mexico, whose president and diplomats accuse Gov. Ron DeSantis of being anti-immigrant.

The criminal case against Raquel López Aguilar — an undocumented father of two from the state of Chiapas living in Tampa and working as a roofer — is the first case in which a Mexican national has been charged under a new Florida law targeting people who drive undocumented migrants into the state.

At the direction of President Andres Manuel López Obrador, Mexican diplomatic officials in Florida are ramping up efforts to defend Mexicans accused of violating DeSantis’ new law, including López Aguilar.

“The Mexican government is sending us resources to pay for this case,” said the Mexican consul in Orlando, Juan Sabines, in an interview Wednesday with the Herald/Times while he drove to visit López Aguilar at a jail in Hernando County.

Sabines called the state’s case against López Aguilar, 41, “complete injustice,” and vital to future cases prosecuted under the state law because it will set the legal precedent. Sabines said he has told López Aguilar that “while you might be a victim today, you could be a hero.”

“And he is willing,” Sabines said. “He is a brave man. Obviously, being in jail is uncomfortable, but he is in the best disposition to keep fighting.”


The Mexican government has accused DeSantis of engineering the law for political gain as he runs for president. Sabines said that his office has repeatedly sought dialogue with DeSantis and his administration about the law. They’ve sent formal letters as well as messages through intermediaries. But there has been no response so far.

The silence, Sabines said, has signified a deteriorating relationship between Florida and Mexico, an important economic partner to the state. The Mexican government has had close relationships with other Florida Republican governors, like Rick Scott and Jeb Bush, said the consul. But things have changed.

Now, Sabines said, “there is no interest.”

Driving to Tampa leads to felony charges


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