With 1.66 million immigrants apprehended at the U.S. border and ports, border control has become an increasingly pressing debate in American politics, particularly in sanctuary cities or states where local laws protect undocumented immigrants.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has remained adamant through his term that Florida will not be considered a “sanctuary state,” despite Florida having one of the highest immigrant populations in the U.S.
On Wednesday, Sept. 14, DeSantis sent 50 undocumented Venezuelan migrants to a summer resort community in Martha’s Vineyard, via two charter flights. They were later moved to a military base, where they were provided food, shelter, lawyers and medical assistance.
“I feel like the way it’s framed as a ‘sanctuary destination’ makes it sound better than it might be. Venezuelans are coming with the expectation that they are being promised jobs, food and shelter. But in reality, they will end up on the streets,” said Alexandra Carillo, a freshman biology major and member of UNIVEN who migrated to Pompano Beach, Fla., from Venezuela in 2014.
Since the 1980s, the amount of Venezuelans immigrants in the U.S. has increased to over 390,000 from 33,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Migrants flee extrajudicial killings, an economy stalled by inflation, lawlessness and chronic food and medicine shortages according to Human Rights Watch.
Migrant Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C-based think-tank, estimates that 772,000 undocumented immigrants live in Florida, 13% of whom are Venezuelan.
DeSantis has made the issue an important part of his governorship, campaigning against undocumented immigration in the past. His actions divided politicians, igniting a national debate.
Democrats across the U.S., including elected officials in the Martha’s Vineyard area, expressed frustration.
Biden publicly expressed his grievance in a press conference on Friday, Sept. 15.
“Instead of working with us on solutions, Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props,” Biden said. “What they’re doing is simply wrong. It’s un-American. It’s reckless.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbot followed suit, carrying out his previous plan to bus migrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington, D.C. and to New York City. He attracted criticism for spending over $12 million on the initiative.
Meanwhile, some prominent Republicans expressed support for DeSantis’ move. Republicans have criticized the Biden Administration in the past for failing to keep Florida from being a sanctuary state and offering extensive refuge to migrants.
“It probably makes a pretty powerful point, which is political, which is the fact that we haven’t secured our border,” Utah senator and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said.
William Diaz, a fellow member of UNIVEN and founder of Casa de Venezuela in 2003, expressed his concern for all Venezuelans.
“We can’t accept the Venezuelan community becoming a target of party politics in the U.S. because our party is and should always be Venezuela,” Diaz said.
Migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard shared mixed emotions about their relocation according to USA Today. Some expressed gratitude for their relocation to the military base and the more stable living conditions. Other migrants who were promised jobs and housing felt lied to and dissatisfied with their new lifestyles.
Nalvis Valera, a 66-year-old mother of two University of Miami alumni and a migrant from Venezuela to Miami in 1996, weighed in on the situation.
“I completely agree with the way DeSantis acted. Being Venezuelan does not change my point of view,” Valera said. “What happens at the border is a total shame. DeSantis should continue using the budget to address issues like this.”
Many liberals and Venezuelans disagree with Valera’s opinion and believe DeSantis’ actions were not only wrong but inhumane. Arnaldo Ferrebus, the president of UNIVEN, spoke out against DeSantis’ action.
“Migrants built the state of Florida that we know today. To see the governor of this great state sending migrants in need to other places shows that Florida has changed while ignoring its past,” Ferrebus said.
The trend may continue. In recent weeks, Republican representatives, including DeSantis, have indicated support for relocating migrants as a retaliation against Democrats for what Republicans perceive as weak border policies.
“There may be more flights, there may be buses,” DeSantis said.