Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew about 50 asylum seekers to the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard without informing any local or state officials in advance. According to one of the migrants who ended up at Martha’s Vineyard, he and others who had just arrived in the United States were in a Texas McDonald’s parking lot when a well-dressed woman approached them, offering gift cards to the restaurant and a free flight to a “sanctuary” where they could begin to restart their lives in Massachusetts. Instead of ending up in Boston or another central point in Massachusetts, the flight landed on Martha’s Vineyard, which is only accessible via ferry or plane. The migrants flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard became pawns in a larger American political squabble over federal immigration policy, with conservative governors believing that stunts like DeSantis’ will force President Joe Biden’s administration to adopt a more hardline stance at the southern border. Although conservative governors such as DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbot care only about undermining federal immigration policy, such decisions will have enormous consequences for migrants arriving to the United States for the first time. Lying to migrants and treating them as pawns in a political fight reveals the cruelty and inhumanity inherent in the way the United States treats many migrants.
Under Biden’s administration, the United States has witnessed a more liberal shift in immigration policy compared to Former President Donald Trump’s time in office. The Biden administration has allowed more than one million undocumented immigrants to temporarily enter the country to gain asylum. While it is likely a long shot that many of the migrants allowed in this effort will receive permanent access, state governments and local organizations have also taken efforts to reduce the federal government’s load. It is clear that allowing more immigrants into the United States is ultimately beneficial for both the country and immigrants — regardless of their legal status. Many of the migrants who Desantis flew out made the long and perilous journey from Venezuela in order to flee from economic and political instability, which has rocked the South American country in recent years and worsened the lives of many residents. A new United Nations report even accused security forces of committing crimes against humanity in efforts of attempting to rid the country of political opposition. Especially since the country has been struggling to recover from a 2014 economic crash, which led to waves of emigration and widespread poverty, the United States should not be turning away those fleeing such conditions.
Allowing for more immigration can also provide a boost for the American economy. With the labor market shrinking, immigrants can help patch the holes growing in the American workforce. Furthermore, each younger generation in America is having fewer children than its predecessor, which means that immigrant workers will have a vital role to play in a labor force which does not show many signs of getting larger. According to the Census Bureau, 79 percent of immigrants are of working age compared to just 61 percent of Americans born in the country. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor statistics also reported that immigrants participate in the workforce at higher rates than native-born Americans. Immigrant workers comprise relatively large percentages of workers in massively important industries such as construction and food manufacturing. Despite these facts, many conservative pundits and politicians have used nativist or racist arguments in favor of reducing immigration — both legal and illegal.
DeSantis, in claiming responsibility for the flights, stated that, “We are not a sanctuary state … and yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.” Although DeSantis claims this was merely the state of Florida acting within its rights, U.S Rep. Bill Keating (D-Md.) told CNN that there had been a videographer on the flights to obtain footage for a potential DeSantis presidential campaign in the 2024 election. Not only did the Florida governor’s office lie to the migrants on their journey, but DeSantis also planned to use it as a potential scene for some political advertising. Unsurprisingly, the backlash against DeSantis has been strong. California Governor Gavin Newsom, a potential future presidential hopeful, wrote a letter to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation of the transports, and claimed that DeSantis’ actions could result in criminal charges for kidnapping. Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate facing DeSantis in this year’s gubernatorial elections and the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, also criticized DeSantis’ decision. However, despite the political posturing from both parties, the fact remains that the migrants are now in Massachusetts and this could happen to more migrants in the near future. The one solace of the awful situation is that locals of Martha’s Vineyard have been welcoming and helpful to those who have been displaced, providing food, clothes and shelter for the migrants. Similar responses and compassion will be vital if Republican governors continue such political stunts.
Theodore Brita is a junior majoring in political science.