DeSantis Treats Migrants Like Pawns

GRAPHIC BY SAVANNAH DEWBERRY/SF FOGHORN

This month, Florida’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, arranged for 48 migrant adults and children to be flown from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. 

The stunt, originally done anonymously and later claimed by DeSantis, was in protest against efforts to broaden border immigration. According to their attorneys, the migrants were told that they were being flown to communities with jobs and other resources available to them, and Martha’s Vineyard was unprepared for their arrival. As reported in the New York Times, DeSantis apparently funded the transport with a $12 million budget he signed earlier this year that is designated to transport migrants out of Florida. 

DeSantis’ decision to purposefully send migrants to a city that is not adequately prepared for their arrival is inherently dehumanizing and fiscally irresponsible. He exported migrants to a different state without their informed consent, gave them false hope of a better life somewhere else, and did not use his budget for their arrival in a legitimate sanctuary city that actually would have the resources in place to support the migrants. 

Martha’s Vineyard, known as a popular summer getaway for the elite, has been falsely dubbed by conservative media, like the New York Post, as a “sanctuary city.” A sanctuary city is characterized as a municipality that limits their cooperation with their national government’s immigration policies. While Massachusetts has eight cities that call themselves sanctuary cities (Amherst, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Concord, Newton, Northampton, and Somerville), none of the six towns that comprise Martha’s Vineyard have passed any sanctuary laws.  

Despite Martha’s Vineyard’s lack of sanctuary status, right-wing politicians and activists target it and other municipalities for their supposed “sanctuary” sentiments, likely due to their location in a Democratic state. In a statement to the New York Times, DeSantis’ Director of Communications, Taryn M. Fenske, said, “States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary sites’ and support for the Biden administration’s open border policy.”

Border states, like Texas, often push for stricter border control laws because they claim they are overwhelmed by migration. Blue northern states, who do not get as many border-crossing migrants because of their location, often push for less border control, and establish sanctuary cities. It could be rightfully argued that these blue states should put their money where their mouth is and help border states get migrants to these “sanctuaries,” but that conversation should have revolved around blue states sending relief funds to migrant housing projects, or helping orchestrate migrants’ journeys up north, to somewhere that could house and help them. Instead of collaborating with blue states and discussing support and accountability, DeSantis moved people around with no regard to their safety or their future.

Overwhelming sanctuary cities with no warning will do nothing but put unnecessary strain on the infrastructure and support for migrants. There has to be a way for DeSantis to negotiate without gambling with people’s livelihoods. 

Unfortunately, Floridan officials aren’t the only ones to play hot potato with migrants. According to the Texas Tribune, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has already spent over $12 million bussing migrants to New York City and Washington D.C., two notable sanctuary cities. As of August, the Tribune reported that more than 7,400 migrants have been transported to Washington D.C. and 1,500 migrants were sent to NYC.  

Migrants are often released into public by the government with little to no support. According to a 2018 USA Today article, U.S. authorities would routinely release migrants from El Paso, Texas detainment centers, and leave them stranded at bus stations in Texas, overwhelming local housing programs. 

In Abbott’s political play, the $12 million spent on bussing the migrants could have gone into making Texan cities better prepared for migrants. Instead, the money was used to make their situation worse somewhere else.

As high-profile politicians, both Abbott and DeSantis apparently have the power to weaponize migrants and reduce an already vulnerable population to political pawns. DeSantis’ decision did nothing but highlight the vulnerability of migrant people in the United States and the selfishness of the government that should protect them. As the story develops and more details are questioned, we cannot forget that observation. It shouldn’t matter their country of origin, they are human beings, and they cannot be shipped around as if they were cattle. 

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