Voices: Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott sent busloads of migrants to sanctuary cities. It backfired

·5-min read
Immigrants arrive at a church in Martha’s Vineyard  (AP)
Immigrants arrive at a church in Martha’s Vineyard (AP)

On Wednesday and Thursday morning, Governors Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) – who is presumed to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 – announced that they had transported dozens of undocumented immigrants to Washington DC and Martha’s Vineyard, respectively. DeSantis’ office said the migrants were sent out of state with money the legislature appropriated to relocate undocumented immigrants that arrived in Florida.

Abbott, for his part, has made a point of sending undocumented migrants in Texas to liberal “sanctuary cities” that refused to comply with the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies. Both governors have publicly stated that their decision to send busloads of immigrants to liberal cities is done as a means of criticizing President Biden’s border policy.

But according to state Representative Dylan Fernandes (D-Massachusetts), who represents Martha’s Vineyard, the immigrants were lied to by state officials, who allegedly told them that jobs and housing were waiting for them at the end of the long bus ride. Fernandes also said that the immigrants, some of whom had young children in tow, had to walk several miles after being dropped off in order to flag down someone to help them.

“Think about the governor of Florida, one of the largest states in the nation, spending his time hatching a secret plot to ship up [to] 50 immigrants here — families, children as young as four — and use them as political pawns just so he could get on Tucker Carlson and beat his chest about how he’s tough on immigration,” Rep. Fernandes told CNN. “He is a coward. And the real story here is about the island community that has rallied to come together to support these people.”

On Wednesday night, Fernandes posted a photo to his official Twitter account, saying that local residents mobilized to provide 50 beds and meals, a play area for children, and healthcare for those in need. “We are a community that comes together to support migrants,” he wrote.

Other communities that have received busloads of undocumented immigrants from Republican states have reacted in similar ways. On Thursday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city was launching the city’s first Asylum Seeker Resource Navigation Center. The center, which is operated by Catholic charities via a contract with the city, will assist immigrants arriving in New York City by helping them access appropriate services, including “legal assistance, medical care, school enrollment, or housing support.”

Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public emergency last week, allowing the city to allot $10 million toward establishing an office aimed at providing “a compassionate, consistent, and well-coordinated response” to the arrival of migrants. The national capital’s new Office of Migrant Services will “seek reimbursement from the federal government,” according to Politico.

Both Governors Abbott and DeSantis are practicing Catholics. In addition to numerous Bible verses in both the Old and New Testaments instructing Christians to be compassionate toward immigrants, Pope Francis – the head of the Catholic Church – said in 2019 that all Christians have a “moral duty” to help migrants and refugees.

“The Lord calls us to practice charity toward them. He calls us to restore their humanity, as well as our own, and to leave no one behind,” Pope Francis said. “We cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our’ group.”

If that weren’t clear enough, perhaps we should turn to the Bible itself. Leviticus chapter 19, verses 33-34 reads: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

As the residents of Martha’s Vineyard demonstrated, everyday Americans have plenty of capacity and compassion to care for displaced migrants. And as an April 2021 Cato Institute poll found, 72 percent of Americans believe that immigrants come to the United States to “find jobs and improve their lives” — as opposed to just 27 percent who think immigrants are only coming to “obtain government services and welfare.” Americans are virtually united on the issue of showing compassion to immigrants; the lack of compassion of Republican officials like Abbott and DeSantis is a sentiment not shared by the vast majority of the citizens they claim to represent.

My English, Irish, and Swedish ancestors – most of whom came to the United States by boat to Ellis Island – had a good view of the Statue of Liberty when they arrived. A plaque on the statue contains the full text of the famous Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus.” The most famous section of that poem reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-lost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Stuffing immigrants onto planes and buses and shipping them to far-off states after lying to them is not only anti-Christian, it’s anti-American. It’s against the values we’ve stood by for centuries. Thankfully, most Americans are far more compassionate than Abbott and DeSantis. The level of compassion Martha’s Vineyard residents showed migrants that arrived on their doorstep is something Republican elected officials should study and emulate.

Carl Gibson is a freelance journalist and columnist. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs