Tuesday, February 1, 2022

DeSantis Plays Politics with the Lives of Migrants

From the Immigration Hub

Hub Highlights: Florida Gov. DeSantis’s Actions Against Immigrant Children, Service Providers and Businesses Reflects the 2022 GOP Scam

WASHINGTON, DC - Last week, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and Republicans continued to rail against immigrant children and families with actions to block Florida service providers and non-profit facilities from sheltering unaccompanied migrant children and reuniting them with their family members. As the state faces unprecedented rising housing pricesspikes in COVID deaths, and labor shortages, Gov. DeSantis - who this week refused to denounce Nazi-held rallies in the states - has centered his agenda on immigration and President Biden. This is the same political playbook employed by the Republican Party to obstruct popular immigration solutions, scapegoat immigrants and blame Democrats. It is also demonstrative of a disturbing trend of cruel policies aimed at migrant children brought forward by Republican leaders.

With ambitions for running for president in 2024 and seeking reelection this year, Gov. DeSantis is callously using immigrant children and families as political pawns to score points with a nativist base, fundraise for his campaign and fuel GOP rhetoric helmed by Florida’s own Senator Marco Rubio and NRSC Chairman Senator Rick Scott. The Florida governor’s actions and rhetoric against immigrants are escalating despite growing pushback and harm to local communities:

  • Gov. DeSantis signs an egregious executive order jeopardizing the care of children and condoning discriminatory profiling. Taking cues from Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, DeSantis claimed to be doubling down against President Biden’s so-called “open border” policies by issuing an executive order that bars agencies and businesses in the state from sheltering, transporting, and caring for unaccompanied migrant children as they are reunified with their families. The order also encourages local law enforcement to stop vehicles they ‘reasonably believe’ to be carrying undocumented immigrants, something that will lead to increased racial profiling in the state.
  • Gov. DeSantis issues an executive rule undermining family reunification and the work of providers.The governor reinforced his executive order with a new rule directing Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) to stop issuing or renewing the licenses of federally funded facilities that house migrant children who are waiting to be reunited with their families or vetted sponsors. As the Tampa Bay Times reported, “The policy change could impact the resettlement of hundreds of migrant children in Florida, where, according to federal data, more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors were released to sponsors between October 2020 and September 2021.” One of the first facilities to suffer under the governor’s action was Sarasota’s Dream Center, which was forced to remove all of the nearly 60 unaccompanied children - most of whom were 13 or under - in its care, according to a local report.
  • The Florida governor threatens businesses and religious groups with new legislation that would harm immigrant children. While companies that are involved in the transportation and care of unaccompanied children are contracted by the federal government, Gov. DeSantis, in a December 2021 press conference, said he would work with Florida Republican legislators to pass legislation aimed at blocking and penalizing private entities, including transportation companies and religious organizations, for helping transport or process immigrant children and families. The governor stated to have a list of state-funded companies flying immigrant children, which his spokesperson falsely and obtusely characterized as assisting the Biden administration’s “human smuggling operation”. However, proving the claim inaccurate, POLITICO found, “No business that the governor's office has identified so far has state contracts or gets money from the state, records show.
  • Florida Republicans introduce the anti-children bill to satisfy DeSantis, waste taxpayers dollars and smear Florida’s immigrant legacy with hateful rhetoric. As State Sen. Aaron Bean, who introduced the bill, crudely admitted to The Florida Times-Union, “We think it’s time to say no to the federal government running this human smuggling operation.”  His new proposal (SB1808/ HB1355) would codify the governor’s attacks against unaccompanied children by blocking and punishing transportation companies that bring children and other immigrants to be processed and reunified with their families. Additionally, the bill would try to resurrect a 2019 anti-sanctuary law that was found unconstitutional by a US District judge who deemed it to be racially motivated, while also aiming to force law enforcement to enter into an agreement with a DHS agency and waste taxpayer dollars to do the job already done by federal immigration agents. The proposal is a shameless political prop for DeSantis and Florida Republicans to undermine President Biden’s family reunification efforts, largely supported by the American public, and Florida’s long history of helping immigrant children find a home and their families.

During a Florida Senate committee hearing last week, testimonies of Cuban migrants who arrived as unaccompanied minors during Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s, reminded legislators of the critical role of providers, religious organizations and the U.S. government in protecting children seeking safety and refuge. As Melissa Taveras of the Florida Immigrant Coalition argued to legislators, “Under this proposed piece of legislation, and the governor’s recent executive [action], the nuns supporting these children would have been shut down by the state, and any forms of transportation they used would have been penalized.”

The Bottom-Line: Governor DeSantis and the Florida GOP’s latest ploys against immigrant children is part of the Republican Party’s strategy of weaponizing and manipulating the issue of immigration against President Biden and Democrats. Just as they’ve done in prior election cycles, Republicans will distract voters away from kitchen-table issues by painting immigrant children and families as threats to public and personal safety and the economy. From candidate fundraiser emails, such as Florida’s Anthony Sabitini and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, to the NRSC’s latest Google ads, the hyperboles and falsehoods employing immigration are just the beginning of a midterm election that will be fraught with immigration misinformation and attacks.



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