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Bill Straub: DeSantis treated immigrants’ lives like game board pieces in assault on common decency

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.
–Leviticus 19:33-34

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the burgeoning Francisco Franco of the Sunshine State, thought he was being a very clever boy when he loaded an innocent group of asylum seekers from Venezuela onto a plane in Texas and dispatched them to the ritzy island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, without prior notice, in some misbegotten and ridiculous protest over federal immigration policies.

DeSantis, who apparently believes out-jerking one of the all-time great buffoons, the one and only former President Donald J. Trump, presents a glide path to the White House, spent $12 million in taxpayer money on this absurd trick, believing the residents of Martha’s Vineyard would be horrified by the very sight of Spanish-speaking brown people and reject them posthaste.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

That didn’t happen. The 50 or so asylum seekers shanghaied by DeSantis were embraced by the islanders, fed, quartered and tended to before being located elsewhere in the state by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker where their needs, including access to immigration lawyers, could be better met.

That didn’t stop DeSantis and other bigots from hailing this endeavor as a great victory, pretending that the island’s inhabitants were somehow left aghast by Spanish-speaking folks in their midst, thus, in their imaginary scenario, proving the America’s immigration system under President Biden is leading the nation down the road to perdition, somehow placing good, Republican-voting White people in great peril.

One of the allies DeSantis managed to recruit for this despicable act along the way was none other than Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, who told reporters, “I personally thought it was a good idea.”

“But if you added up all of the (immigrants) who’ve been taken to Chicago or Washington or Martha’s Vineyard, it would be fewer than people down in Texas have to deal with on a daily basis.”

Then, in a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell dove deep into reduction ad absurdum, asserting that DeSantis was simply lending a helping hand to these folks.

“The governor of Florida helped a tiny number of illegal immigrants, about four dozen, secure transportation to the wealthy liberal destination of Martha’s Vineyard, filled with millionaires’ mansions, which appointed itself a so-called ‘sanctuary destination’ back in 2017,” McConnell said.

“Democrats, liberal activists, and the media are predictably melting down. There are absurd accusations flying around that it is somehow evil or illegal for Republican officials to help illegal immigrants move within our country.”

Let’s first straighten out Mitch’s apparently addled mind – the group did not consist of “illegal immigrants.” Under federal law, if a migrant crosses the border, enters the U.S., turns himself or herself in to a border guard or some other authority and thereupon requests political asylum, that person is entitled to a hearing. The Venezuelans in this case were legally seeking asylum.

Furthermore, neither Massachusetts nor Martha’s Vineyard, an island consisting of six separate towns, have passed sanctuary laws. It is, however, accurate to claim that Edgartown, where the migrants were initially housed, adopted sanctuary status. But sanctuary is unnecessary in this case anyway since those transported up there were already seeking asylum.

And DeSantis’ actions might very well have been illegal. Suits have been filed and a county sheriff in Texas is investigating. Ultimately the courts will decide. Not Mitch McConnell.

Other than that, our boy is right on top of it as usual.

This entire hullabaloo is centered around the Republican claim that Biden administration essentially operates under the premise of open borders. Some cite the so-called replacement theory – that Democrats are inviting brown-skinned invaders into the country to push White Republicans to the side, thus replacing them on the voter rolls. Other attacks are being ginned up as the November election approaches.

“Biden can’t defend his policies of open borders,” DeSantis said at a recent event. “It’s doing huge damage to our country.”

In reality, it’s the open borders lie that’s impossible to defend. And the United States desperately needs immigrants.

According to the Southern Border Communities Coalition, the federal government spends more than $24.7 billion on immigration enforcement agencies, which is “more than all other enforcement agencies combined, including the FBI, DEA, ATF, US Marshals, and Secret Service.”

Most of the funding goes to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with a budget of $16.3 billion in fiscal year 2022, making it the largest law enforcement agency in the country. More than 85 percent of the agency’s border patrol agents – 16,878 of 19,648 – are concentrated on the southern border.

During the current fiscal year, there have been more than 2,150,000 ”encounters” along the southern border – a total that easily outpaces the 1,734,000 of the prior fiscal year. In August alone the Border Patrol accounted for 181,160 encounters.

Critics have construed those numbers to conclude that the southern border is porous or, as DeSantis and other maintain, open. But that claim is hard to substantiate when the Border Patrol is stopping more than 2 million migrants from entering since, in fact that’s their job.

There are more individuals being stopped at the border than at any time during the Trump administration, although those number are somewhat skewed, as is everything, by the COVID-19 pandemic. It would seem that stopping more undocumented migrants from entering than those who arrived during the tenure of your predecessor constitutes progress, a positive outcome. It certainly belies any notion of the existence of an open border.

But not to Republican critics.

DeSantis and his crew also cite rising crime rates and the increased availability of fentanyl in the U.S. — almost 90 percent of opioid overdose deaths in 2021 were linked to fentanyl — as evidence of an illegal immigrant crisis. But studies show that that immigrants pay more in taxes than they cost in social services, are more likely to hold down jobs and, significantly, are less likely to commit crimes.

The American Immigration Council notes that there is no evidence that undocumented immigrants contribute to the crime problem and adds that the Drug Enforcement Administration has determined that the most common method of smuggling fentanyl into the country is “through U.S. [ports of entry] in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor-trailers” – not carted in backpacks by those sneaking across the border.

It’s been stated that America is a wonderful country and it would be great if everyone could live in America – but that obviously isn’t possible. That’s why the nation has, and needs, immigration laws.

But those laws are out of whack. The U.S. needs more immigrants, not fewer. It’s well documented that America’s employers are facing difficulty filling available positions during this time of low unemployment. What’s more, with an aging population contributing to lower birth rates – down to 11.6 per 1,000 from 23.7 per 1,000 in 1960 – somebody has to fill the approaching void.

Plenty of good folks want to come here to fill the ever-growing gaps. The answer, obviously, is to increase legal immigration by generally increasing the quota and hiring more immigration judges to speed up the process.

Instead, what we get are nincompoops like DeSantis, more willing to use the issue as a political tool for his own benefit than to address the laws to help the nation as a whole. Updated immigration laws offer a rare win-win – for those entering and the United States itself.

But fat chance given the continued anti-immigrant position staked out by Republicans in positions of influence who think catering to an anti-immigrant tenor will result in votes.

The folks from Venezuela, by the way, are headed in this direction because the country’s Communist-leaning regime has destroyed the nation’s economy. Today, about 33 percent of the population suffers from hunger. Malnutrition among poor children is endemic and three-quarters of the population live in extreme poverty.

About 6 million people have fled Venezuela seeking better lives elsewhere, mostly in other South American countries. But a growing number, like the folks DeSantis hijacked to make his malevolent point, are journeying thousands of miles up through Mexico in hopes of making a better life here in the United States.

Worse than the numbers is DeSantis’ assault on common decency and the predilection of the modern Republican Party to punch down. He used these folks like game-board pieces, apparently sending someone to entice them on the plane by offering jobs and places to stay in the City of New York.

That’s what the Republican Party has become.

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