Ron DeSantis wants to prove to MAGA voters that he’s even more cruel and inhumane than Trump, so he took Florida taxpayer money, hired a coyote to go down to the Texas border, round up some refugees and lure them onto a plane and ship them off to an elite enclave up north. What could go wrong? The MAGA media loves it, of course, but, what about voters in Florida itself? The Venezuelan-Americans are pretty pissed off— and there are around 200,000 of them in Florida (and over 20,000 in Texas). The Republicans have been successfully wooing them with their anti-socialist messaging for some time and now… they’re not the only Florida Hispanics angry with DeSantis’ stunt. Last week, Politico reported that “One Spanish radio host loudly denounced the move and even compared DeSantis’ actions to that of deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who relocated Cubans in the early ‘60s… ‘From a Miami perspective, it’s a huge mistake,’ said state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat challenging incumbent Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL). ‘All these Republicans— including my opponent— historically talk about socialism and communism and that we are standing up to these horrible dictators. The migrants are fleeing exactly what Republicans say they are fighting against.’ Florida Republicans in recent years have made it a priority to court Venezuelan Americans, many of whom fled their home country in the past decade amid the political and economic turmoil under Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chávez. It’s a story that has parallels to Cuban Americans— a crucial bloc of support for the GOP— who left their country to escape communism.
Earlier, writing for the Tampa Bay Times, Juan Carlos Chavez reported on some of the reactions in Florida. “William Diaz, a community leader in Central Florida and founder of the Casa de Venezuela network in the U.S., said DeSantis doesn’t care about immigrants and he’s only paying attention to the midterm elections in November. Casa de Venezuela promotes democracy and freedom and helps Venezuelan refugees. ‘Our governor definitely wants to get some kind of political advantage for the midterm elections. The Legislature approved millions to assist immigrants who have suffered the consequences of COVID, but not to pay for planes carrying migrants from Texas to Massachusetts just to be nice to the governor of Texas and Arizona.’… The Republican governor’s office said the flights were part of the state’s relocation program even though the trips started in Texas, not Florida, according to the Miami Herald. Most of the 50 migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard came from Venezuela, according to the Herald, and attorneys speaking for them say they were lied to and promised jobs and housing.
Venezuelan journalist Carlos Bohorquez, 37, of Tampa, decried DeSantis’ actions. Bohorquez is among the 140,000 refugees or asylum-seekers across the United States who have left Venezuela as the once-stable nation deteriorates under the shadow of the late socialist leader, Hugo Chavez, and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.
“I don’t have a partisan view so I don’t care where an action like this comes from because I will always repudiate it,” said Bohorquez. “Immigrants, especially in Florida, are a fundamental part of the local growth and economy. Trying to ignore our immigrants fleeing cruel regimes is an inhumane act.”
…Adelys Ferro, director of the Venezuelan-American Caucus in Miami, said immigrants are at the heart of Florida and they’re not pieces of a political game.
“One in five Floridians is an immigrant,” said Ferro in an email. “Stop using Venezuelans as props for your political games! You cannot rail against Nicolás Maduro and then despise Venezuelan immigrants when they seek refuge in your state.”
But what about criticism from… Señor Trumpanzee! Aswan Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley reported that Trump is fuming because DeSantis is stealing his thunder, “telling allies and confidants he’s outraged that DeSantis seems to think he’s allowed to steal the ex-president’s mantle as both media star, and as undocumented-immigrant-basher-in-chief.” Trump has been whining that DeSantis is trying to take the national news cycle away from him. “Trump,” they reported, “has fumed over all the praise DeSantis’ action has been receiving in influential conservative circles lately— such as on right-wing media like Fox News— and has privately accused DeSantis of doing this largely to generate a 2024 polling boost for himself among GOP voters… The twice-impeached former president, the sources say, has also vented that DeSantis’ latest stunt was yet another one of ‘my idea[s]’ that the governor allegedly stole from Trump… And Trump’s apparent sense of right-flank vulnerability on immigration was evident on his social media platform, Truth Social. There, the former president spent his weekend intermittently teasing his alleged plans to run again in 2024 while hailing his own record of cruelty to asylum seekers.
Unnamed officials went to a shelter in San Antonio and reportedly deceived roughly 50 Venezuelan and Colombian migrants into boarding a chartered flight to Martha’s Vineyard, possibly with misinformation about available jobs and housing. DeSantis directed the stunt, involving migrants who’d never set foot in Florida. Other Republican politicians have also been engaging in this tactic recently, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been busing migrants to Democratic enclaves to the delight of the anti-immigration right.
Republican elected officials are eager to broadcast their anti-migrant cruelty to voters, but they no means have a monopoly on mistreatment. As vice president, Joe Biden was a relative immigration hardliner inside the Obama administration. On entry in the Oval Office, Biden vowed his administration would unwind Trump’s radical rewrite of the nation’s policies on migrants and asylum seekers. His administration has had some success, but progress has been uneven. For example, Biden has publicly stated his goal of ending a Trump-era order that used Covid as an excuse to force migrants to remain on the Mexican side of the southern border. But those efforts have been slow-going, and this week, Reuters reports the administration was pressing Mexico to accept more migrants from Central America and the Caribbean.
Amid questions on the legality and morality of what DeSantis did, the fracas doubles as a proxy fight between the two most prominent figures in modern American conservatism. It’s a political conflict likely to produce more cruel, ostentatious, and draconian policy proposals and actions, as leaders such as DeSantis and Trump compete to out-MAGA one another.
“With about 10 million job openings, these Venezuelan asylum seekers will soon have jobs and [be] supporting their families. Too bad they had to be the pawns in an old fashioned game of ‘Own the Libs,’” says Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst working at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, DC. “It’s important to note that this stunt is just an escalation of 2016. Trump changed the politics radically, DeSantis is just trying the same old Trunpian playbook. There doesn’t appear to be a real political entrepreneur this cycle like there was in 2016.”
Nowrasteh adds, “I’ve been observing the escalating chaos on the border for the last 2 years. The situation is only made more chaotic by governors stepping [in] to fly migrants to parts of the country where they don’t want to go. Venezuelan migrants are integrating well. Their largest community is in Florida and many of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard will eventually end up there.”
In his Twitter thread this morning, Dante Atkins noted that “What conservatives wanted from the dehumanizing Martha's Vineyard stunt was to accuse liberals of hating migrants just as much as they do. It was all geared for the ‘liberals deport migrants’ headlines. They were going to do it regardless of whether it was true, and they have. The people of Martha's Vineyard can take perfect care of them, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can activate the National Guard to assist and offer them transportation where they can receive services, they can do everything right. but it won't matter. Conservatives will lie. They will say that the National Guard was activated against the migrants, when they were activated on their behalf. They will say that the migrants were ‘deported,’ when they were offered voluntary transportation to receive services. The entire point of the stunt was to make accusations of ‘liberal hypocrisy’ on the grounds that liberals hate migrants just as much as Republicans do. It's not true, of course, but truth is irrelevant. They will lie, and their media organs will perpetuate the lie. The actual truth will be lost in the confusion, as media that are not explicitly right-wing will start exploring the political winners and losers of the stunt and trying to navigate a middle ground between the truth and the lie.”
I bet DeSantis wasn’t banking on the outstanding investigative journalism of Judd Legum at Popular Information. Early this morning Legum published “documentary evidence that migrants from Venezuela were provided with false information to convince them to board” DeSantis’ 2 chartered flights,” which Legum notes is probably a crime
“The charter flights,” wrote Legum, “appear to be inspired by a Tucker Carlson monologue from July 26, in which the notoriously xenophobic host suggested sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard in ‘huge numbers.’ DeSantis reportedly sent a videographer along for the ride, and Fox News obtained ‘exclusive footage of the migrants’ arrival.’… [M]any of the migrants told reporters that they were misled about the nature of the flights. Several migrants told NPR they were told the flight was going to Boston, not Martha's Vineyard. According to the migrants, a woman who identified herself as Perla also said that, if they traveled to Boston, they could receive ‘expedited work papers.’ The allegation that the migrants were misled is legally significant. It would mean that the flights were not just heartless, but potentially criminal. If the migrants were misled, the scheme to transport them to Martha's Vineyard could constitute fraud, false imprisonment, or kidnapping. ‘There is absolutely the possibility of both civil and criminal liability if people were lied to about where they were going [or] what they were going to get when they got there,’ lawyer Susan Church told Politico. DeSantis has been adamant that the migrants were not misled.”
DeSantis has been lying about that, consistently and with the connivance of MAGA media. The brochure Legum published today, which had been designed by DeSantis’ team to resemble an official government document, was given to the Venezuelan refugees to trick them onto DeSantis charter flights with false promises. “The brochure says that migrants who arrive in Massachusetts will be eligible for numerous benefits, including ‘8 months cash assistance,’ ‘assistance with housing,’ ‘food, ‘clothing,’ ‘transportation to job interviews,’ ‘job training,’ ‘job placement,’ ‘registering children for school,’ ‘assistance applying for Social Security cards,’ and many other benefits. None of this, however, is true.”