‘Huge mistake’: DeSantis migrant transports could undermine support in South Florida

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“From Miami’s perspective, this is a huge mistake,” said State Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat challenging the incumbent representative. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.). “All of these Republicans – including my opponent – ​​historically talk about socialism and communism and that we stand up to these horrible dictators. Migrants are fleeing exactly what Republicans say they are fighting against.

In recent years, Republicans in Florida have made it a priority to woo Venezuelan Americans, many of whom have fled their homelands over the past decade amid political and economic turmoil under Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chávez. It’s a story that has parallels with Cuban Americans — a crucial GOP support bloc — who left their country to escape communism.

The Venezuelan American community in Florida remains a relatively small but growing slice of voters in Florida. According to recent estimates, there are at least 200,000 Venezuelans in the state.

But on Wednesday, DeSantis facilitated two flights to carry a group of about 50 Venezuelan and Colombian migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a campaign by DeSantis to draw attention to President Joe Biden’s border policies. Many migrants are presumed to seek asylum after fleeing Venezuela. Some of the migrants told media and immigration campaigners that they had been misled about their destination. DeSantis denied the allegation, saying passengers on the planes gave their consent and were given maps explaining their final destination.

When asked to comment, the DeSantis administration pointed to a previous statement defending transportation.

DeSantis’ actions have been widely condemned by Democrats as inhumane while being cheered by conservatives who argue that increased immigration is being ignored by Biden.

“I have friends and neighbors who fled Venezuela’s brutal dictator, and to cruelly treat anyone in this place as a political pawn or a fundraising gimmick is simply disgusting,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) whose own district includes a large contingent of Venezuelan Americans.

The move came less than 24 hours before Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) And other Florida Republicans held their own press conference outside the White House to denounce Biden’s policies on Latinos, including his administration’s recent overtures to the Maduro regime.

While DeSantis has staunchly defended his actions at press conferences this week, some Florida Republicans have been cautious in their remarks. Scott himself avoided the question of whether DeSantis should have transported the migrants, saying instead that Biden should do more to secure the border.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), during an appearance in West Palm Beach, said he didn’t know the details of what DeSantis did, according to news outlet WPTV. But he added that “people want to panic about Martha’s Vineyard, whatever, but I’m telling you the biggest problem here is not that 50 people were sent to Martha’s Vineyard. The biggest problem here is that every day, thousands of people enter the country illegally.”

Daniel Di Martino, a conservative Venezuelan activist and immigration researcher who was born and raised in Venezuela, was skeptical, however, that DeSantis’ actions would cause much political backlash for that community’s governor.

“I think the point is that it looks like a mess,” Di Martino said. “I think it will succeed.”

Di Martino noted that new visa requirements – imposed by Mexico on Venezuelans – have forced more Venezuelans to take a longer and more dangerous route to the southern border. Reuters reported that these new rules were passed at the request of the Biden administration to deal with a surge in the number of Venezuelans entering the United States.

“I think everyone is a hypocrite,” Di Martino said.

A problem for Democrats seeking to drive a wedge between Republicans and Venezuelan Americans is that the Biden administration’s ongoing overtures to Maduro have not gone down well with those who have already fled the country. Even some Florida Democrats were upset in May when the Biden administration said it would ease sanctions on Maduro’s government if it spoke to US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó .

“Smart people understand what’s going on,” said Ernesto Ackerman of Independent Venezuelan American Citizens and GOP committee member in Florida. “It’s not a Governor DeSantis problem. This is a federal government problem.

DeSantis’ tough line on immigration is not new. He pushed for legislation to ban “sanctuary cities” or communities that refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The governor had been talking about busing migrants to other locations — including Biden’s home state of Delaware — since late last year.

DeSantis also convinced the Republican-led state legislature to include $12 million — which comes from interest earned on billions provided to Florida as part of the U.S. bailout — in its new budget to relocate workers. immigrants. Taddeo pointed out that she tried to amend an immigration bill last session to include language prohibiting the state from transporting migrants if they were trying to flee a communist or socialist country.

“I tried to warn them,” said Taddeo, who claimed many South Florida Republicans remained relatively quiet about what the governor had done.

“They know it’s absolutely toxic in Miami-Dade County because it shows their true colors,” she said. “All this outrage against socialism and communism – it’s all wrong.”

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