Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed a news conference on Sept. 20, 2022. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel
Despite criticisms, potential lawsuits and calls for investigations, Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for elevating the immigration issue on Tuesday amid reports that another airlift of asylum seekers was headed from Texas — this time to beach communities in Delaware, home state to President Joe Biden.
The Republican governor, who’s seeking reelection in November, created a major controversy by flying some 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., last week. Asked about the commotion during an unrelated news conference on Tuesday, DeSantis said the move forced Democratic elitists to confront the costs of immigration.
The governor claimed Biden’s policies are encouraging people to risk their lives traversing migrant routes from Central and South America, allowing the importation of the dangerous narcotic fentanyl into the United States, and allowing criminal aliens to harm Americans.
“I didn’t hear any outrage about that. The only thing I hear them getting upset about is you have 50 that end in Martha’s Vineyard; then they get really upset,” he said.
DeSantis implied that the borders were secure under President Donald Trump.
“He inherited a border that wasn’t like this. He has created the crisis,” the governor said of Biden. “Now at least we know, nobody can deny that there is a crisis.”
He added: “It will be a big issue in the elections, I can tell you that. But, hopefully, when we get through with that we can have some rationality. If we have a new Congress, that may be a big step in the right direction.”
Asked about the reported Delaware-bound flight, though, he said: “I cannot confirm that. I can’t.”
A review of state records in September showed two invoices that might reflect the airlifts. One showed $615,000 to Vertol Systems Co. Inc. for “contracted services — other;” the second showed a $950,000 payment.
Asked about the records, Michael Williams, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Transportation, told the Phoenix by email that the agency had opened a public-records search but provided no other information or copies of the contracts.
New organizations including the Miami Herald were reporting Tuesday afternoon that the flight hadn’t departed from Texas as scheduled. Delaware Online reported that officials on that end were preparing for an influx but that none had yet arrived.
The Legislature appropriated $12 million to the DOT “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law,” defined as “a person who is unlawfully present in the United States.”
However, the migrants Florida has transported have been cleared by federal agents to remain in the country pending adjudication of their asylum claims.
‘Do it at the source’
And they weren’t rounded up in Florida. DeSantis defended the tactic, however.
“If you can do it at the source and divert to sanctuary jurisdictions, the chance they end up in Florida is much less,” he said.
“If I could do it all in Florida, I would. But if we just ignore the source, then you’re going to have people trickling in five, 10 a day, 20 a day, I don’t know. But there’s no way you could possibly track all that because it’s on such a small scale.
“Whereas, if you know there’s maybe 1,000 people down there and a lot of them are saying Florida, well, you can say, well hey, wait a minute, here’s a sanctuary jurisdiction, be able to provide the transport, so if that’s what you want to do you do.”
Democrats including Charlie Crist, the party’s nominee against DeSantis in the November election, have denounced the airlifts. There have been calls for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
A coalition of immigrant-rights group gathered in Doral to protest DeSantis’ action.
“What Ron DeSantis did was despicable. It does not have justification to take asylum seekers and refugees and to treat them this way and to trick them and mistreat them for a political stunt and for political points to agitate a white-supremacist base,” said Andrea Mercado, executive director of Florida Rising.
“Ron DeSantis may have tricked these refugees but he will not trick us in November,” Mercado said.
Also participating were FLIC Votes, the Venezuelan-American Caucus, Family Action Network Movement Action, and Project Pulso.
Meanwhile, Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar has announced his own investigation into whether the operation violated Texas law and said he hopes to collaborate with federal officials. He alleged that a Venezuelan migrant was paid a “bird dog fee” to recruit 50 migrants from a resource center in San Antonio, CNN reported.
‘In our country legally’
“They are here legally in our country at that point. They have every right to be where they are. And I believe that they were preyed upon,” Salazar told reporters during a video press conference.
“Somebody came from out of state, preyed upon these people, lured them with promises of a better life, which is what they were absolutely looking for with the knowledge that they were going to cling to whatever hope they could be offered for a better life, to just be exploited and hoodwinked into making this trip to Florida and then onward to Martha’s Vineyard for what I believe to be nothing more than political posturing to make a point,” Salazar said.
Journalist Judd Legun, on his Popular Information site, published a photo of a brochure provided to him by Lawyers for Civil Rights, which represents some of the asylum seekers, that airlift organizers provided to the migrants. It promises benefits to which, given their immigration status, they are not entitled, including eight months cash assistance and help applying for Social Security cards.
DeSantis described what he sees as the real problem at length.
“It’s our view that, one, the border should be secure and we want to have Biden reinstitute polices like remain in Mexico and making sure that people aren’t overwhelming [the border].
“But, short of that, if you believe in open borders, then it’s the sanctuary jurisdictions that should have to bear the brunt of the open borders. So, that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
“They were provided an ability to be in the most posh sanctuary jurisdiction maybe in the world. And, obviously, it’s sad that Martha’s Vineyard people deported them the next day. They could have absorbed this; they chose not to.
“But what it shows is, if 50 [people] was a burden on one of the richest places in our country, what about all these other communities that have been overrun with hundreds of thousands? It shows you that, now that these policies are on the front burner, people need to be talking about, Biden can’t defend his policies of open borders, it’s doing huge damage to our country, it’s costing a lot of money, it’s costing lives with the drugs that are pouring across.
“And so, the question is: Why are you supporting Biden’s policies? Why don’t you step up and tell him, you’re failing and let’s do it differently.”
Note: This story has been updated to include remarks from the immigrant-advocates’ event in Doral.
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