Policy

GOP ‘stunts’ with migrants sweep up those fleeing regimes they denounce

Republican governors’ determination to send newly arrived migrants to liberal-leaning parts of the U.S. is coinciding with another trend: an uptick in migration from countries led by authoritarian dictators.  

The group of 50 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week had nearly all recently arrived from Venezuela. Another group of 100 dropped outside the vice president’s Washington, D.C., residence this weekend also included those fleeing the country. And buses sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) largely included Venezuelans. 

The U.S. in recent weeks has seen an even greater shift in migration from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Migrants from the three countries represented 35 percent of those who crossed the southwest border in August — nearly double what it was just last year — a pattern fueled by struggles in the trio of Latin American countries.  

Many are asylum-seekers, legally allowed to seek refuge from political and other types of persecution, and the U.S. is largely unable to return them given the lack of agreements with their home countries.  

“That’s the hypocritical thing, is that DeSantis and Abbott and other politicians are constantly beating up on places like Cuba and Venezuela because they claim the leaders are so repressive and make the countries dangerous for the people, and yet when the people try to flee, they treat them like shit. And they use them as pawns in these stunts,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) told The Hill.   

Migrants on the Martha’s Vineyard flight have since told lawyers they were informed they were going to Boston and would be afforded employment opportunities and immigration relief. They were also given a brochure of Massachusetts benefits for refugees — services they are not eligible for as asylum-seekers.

“This is really sadistic behavior. They’re lying. They’re deceiving these people and luring them onto planes and buses with promises of jobs and clothing and shelter,” Castro said. “And then they’re abandoning them, sometimes in remote places like Martha’s Vineyard.”   

DeSantis, Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) have been vocal about an effort they say is designed to give liberal enclaves a taste of the struggles at the southwest border. Though DeSantis has said the move is needed to protect Floridians, the flights he has paid some $12 million for have originated in Texas.  

“If there’s any hypocrisy going on here, it’s hypocrisy on the part of cities that are now upset about the surge in asylum-seekers. Well, welcome to our world. Arizona has been dealing with this for years,” said C.J. Karamargin, communications director for Ducey, who has bused 1,849 migrants to D.C., the bulk of whom have been Colombian, though 13 percent hail from Venezuela.  

A spokeswoman for Abbott, Renae Eze, similarly said “hypocritical Democrats and sanctuary city mayors need to stop complaining about a few thousand migrants,” blaming President Biden for the situation at the border.

DeSantis’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

The governors have sought to build their brand as opponents of communism, particularly DeSantis in Florida, where Cubans and Venezuelans make up a significant part of the electorate.  

The staggering influx of migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua — some 55,333 in August — puts the trio on a path to overtake migration from Mexico and northern Central America, where just more than 56,000 migrants left this month.  

“Failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest U.S. border,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a Monday press release.  

Migration from Venezuela follows years of food shortages and instability under President Nicolás Maduro. In Cuba, last year’s summer protests against the government were met with violence by the country’s military and police. And in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega has cracked down violently on protesters and any opposition to his government, building an increasingly totalitarian dictatorship.  

“The Republicans are so quick to bash the Venezuelan government and to say, ‘But we love the Venezuelans.’ And then the minute that vulnerable populations from Venezuela arrive in our country, they then use them as political pawns. It’s really beyond reprehensible. It’s a really repugnant motivation,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) told The Hill.  

She also pushed back against the argument that Republican governors are simply doing what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) already do.  

“NGOs and communities have long bused migrants to other destinations. They’ve used Greyhound buses, but normally it’s to get them to other NGOs or to their sponsors in other communities,” Escobar said.  

“What is different with DeSantis and with Abbott and Ducey is they are using people as political pawns in this culture war. DeSantis has sunk to a new low by lying to people, and I guess securing a private jet to send them to Martha’s Vineyard. But the Republicans always want to have it both ways. While they want to condemn Venezuela and say they support Venezuelans, the minute Venezuelans need help, they debase themselves in the way that they treat them.”  

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) criticized DeSantis while urging Biden to offer more protections for those fleeing oppressive governments.  

“These are people — human beings yearning to breathe free — fleeing repression and hopelessness. But instead of welcoming these refugees and providing even the most basic care, Gov. DeSantis decided to spend millions of taxpayer dollars in transportation costs, just to rile up his right-wing supporters and get more hits on Fox News,” he said in a statement last week.  

“[Biden] should welcome these refugees and those from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba that have been bussed to other states, and allow them to seek temporary protections in the United States. This was the right thing to do for Ukrainians who could not return home, and it is the right thing to do now.”  

Many Republicans who have campaigned on confronting such governments did not find fault with DeSantis’s actions.  

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a vocal critic of Maduro as well as the Communist Party of Cuba, downplayed the number of migrants involved in the Massachusetts flight, though at least 13,000 migrants have been moved in the overall effort.  

“What was flown to Martha’s Vineyard is but a small, like minuscule, fraction of the problem being faced and the burden being carried by just a handful of states,” he said. “A handful of border states and a handful of communities in those states are taking on 90 percent of the burden.”  

“I always sympathize with people that are coming to this country,” Rubio added. “They’re desperate. Because of communism, because of poverty, because of violence. Of course. But the truth of the matter is every country in the world has to have immigration laws.”  

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said the solution is to welcome “legal migration.”   

So far, none of the migrants who have publicly divulged their status are undocumented. A majority, if not all, are asylum-seekers who must present themselves on U.S. soil and have been processed by U.S. border officials and allowed to remain in the country until their cases are resolved by immigration court.

“Different governors are doing things to try to get people to focus on the problem that’s happening in their states as a result of this,” Scott said.  

“Secure the border and have an immigration policy that works — we got to have an immigration policy that people [who] want to live our dream can come here.”  

Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), whose parents fled to the U.S. from Cuba and who interviewed a number of communist dictators during her career as a journalist, likewise touted legislation as the solution.   

“You know how we solve this? I presented an immigration reform law. Do you know about it? It’s called the Dignity Act. Why don’t we have [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi bring it to the floor?” she asked.   

While bipartisan immigration reform packages were approved by the Senate in 2006 and 2013, the then-Republican-led House both times refused to take them up for a vote.  

It’s a detail that Escobar said makes Republicans’ claims around the need for immigration reform insincere.  

“The United States, mostly because of Republicans, has approached immigration as a border-only issue. Republicans have refused to pass immigration reform. They’ve refused to update or modernize our laws. They’ve insisted on only dealing with it as a border issue. This is the consequence of dealing with immigration as a border issue,” she said, noting that has corresponded with limiting some legal pathways.   

“Of course we’re going to see an increase in irregular migration. And yet Republicans want to point at the border and call it ‘Biden’s border crisis’ when this is a crisis by design.”  

According to several reports, the migrants have been led astray at every turn, with the Martha’s Vineyard group also told to report their new addresses to an agency that processes visas, not asylum claims.  

Some migrants were also assigned addresses of various homeless shelters to list as their own.  

Both those clerical errors would require migrants to report to immigration authorities in random destinations and would likely speed a process to deport them for not showing up for their asylum court dates.  

Rubio took aim at DHS officials, some of whom are likely behind the instructions to report to homeless shelters.  

“Today I will be demanding answers from @DHSgov about reports from Martha’s Vineyard that federal agents assigned random homeless shelters across the country as the mailing addresses of illegal migrants, even after the migrants told them they had no address in the U.S.,” Rubio wrote on Twitter.

Castro said GOP leaders need to do more to help than just bashing leftist leaders.  

“If you’re going to treat the people like that when they try to flee these very desperate, repressive situations, then you should just shut your mouth and stop complaining about Maduro if you’re not going to do anything to help the people that are trying to flee Venezuela,” he said. 

Rafael Bernal contributed. 

Tags Bob Menendez Cuba Daniel Ortega Doug Ducey Greg Abbott Joaquin Castro Joe Biden Kamala Harris Marco Rubio Maria Elvira Salazar Nancy Pelosi Nicaragua Nicolas Maduro Rick Scott Ron DeSantis Venezuela Veronica Escobar
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