As part of a new and cruel Republican PR strategy, Florida governor Ron DeSantis this week used his state’s money for a stunt that consisted of flying around 50 majority-Venezuelan asylum seekers from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
“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,” DeSantis said in a statement, justifying the human rights violation as a response to president Biden’s alleged “open border policy.”
Most of the migrants, who arrived at Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, did not know where they were going. They told the media they had been “fooled” into getting on a plane destined for an unknown location. Many told NPR they were approached by a woman named “Perla” outside a San Antonio shelter who offered them a trip to Boston, where they supposedly could get expedited work permits.
Republicans were hoping this would be a huge “burn” to the wealthy liberals who live in the area. It seemed they had coordinated on the strategy, since Texas governor Greg Abbott at the same time delivered busloads of migrants to Washington DC. But instead, the citizens of DC and Martha’s Vineyard showed compassion to their new arrivals and rallied together to find and provide housing and financial support. On Martha’s Vineyard, the local high school even released their AP Spanish students so they could help translate.
This isn’t the first time Abbott has used desperate migrants as political pawns. Indeed, the governor has made the trafficking of desperate migrants to northern states a staple of his kind of “conservatism.” Buses filled with migrants — mostly Venezuelans — have been arriving in New York City all summer, with city officials now working to relocate these migrants to the places they actually want to settle in, where they have resources or people who can help them.
“Many want to go to places like Florida where the largest community of Venezuelans live,” Commissioner Manuel Castro told Fox. “We’re helping them get to their actual final destination.”
Despite all their talk about combating illegal immigration, Abbott and DeSantis are now serving as de facto coyotes, trafficking vulnerable migrants to places where they have no roots or connections.
Venezuelans now officially represent the largest refugee and migrant crisis in the world, alongside Ukrainians. Unlike those fleeing the Russian invasion in Ukraine, however, Venezuelans are not escaping war, but a brutal leftist dictatorship. As reported by The New York Times, a shocking 6.1 million Venezuelans have fled the struggling nation in recent years. Last month alone, 25,000 crossed the dangerous Darién Gap on their way to the United States.
In response to the forced placement of migrants in random cities, Venezuelan opposition leader Carlos Vecchio asked US officials for solidarity with the Venezuelan people. “Behind every Venezuelan migrant, every family seeking refuge, there is a painful story that has the Maduro dictatorship as its victimizer,” he said on Twitter.
This unparalleled crisis has brought thousands of Venezuelans to the US-Mexico border over the last few months. Cubans and Nicaraguans escaping similar leftist dictatorships have also been turning up in record numbers at the border.
Republican politicians and pundits love using the Venezuelan tragedy to score political points. They especially love talking on podiums and at rallies about how socialism destroyed what was once Latin America’s wealthiest nation. Yet once Venezuelan asylum seekers come to the US for refuge from that oppressive regime, they’re immediately dehumanized; no longer victims but “illegals” to be weaponized and rejected wholesale.
To Republicans, the situation in Venezuela is tragic enough to serve as a warning about leftist authoritarianism, but not tragic enough to accept these migrants looking for a better life under democracy.
In contexts where they’re facing off against political opponents, Republicans claim to care about the tragedy in Venezuela. In reality, to them, we Venezuelans are just more “illegal immigrants” coming to take their voters’ jobs and money. The actions of DeSantis and Abbott this week couldn’t underline that more.