Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s excuse for kidnapping Venezuelan immigrants and sending them to Martha’s Vineyard is certifiably ludicrous. Yet most people haven’t heard his attempted defense, either for the kidnapping charge or for the circumstances that led him to send lawful asylum seekers to the Massachusetts island. The corporate both-sides media has largely buried his lies and excuses, instead using this situation to launch another debate about the immigration system in this country—which is what Republicans want us to focus on. They certainly don’t want us talking about their revocation of reproductive rights or cultish support of a former president who is being investigated for espionage.
Luckily, I am not desperate to secure pillow advertisements, so let’s get into it. The first and most obvious question that every reporter should be asking is: How did these immigrants get into DeSantis’s clutches in the first place? Remember, we’re talking about mainly Venezuelan immigrants who were in this country lawfully seeking asylum in Texas. They were staying in San Antonio. How did DeSantis get two planeloads of people to Martha’s Vineyard, by way of Florida?
DeSantis has an answer for that and, once you wring English out of the gobbledygook, his explanation is shocking. Here’s the answer he gave to the threshold question of where these people came from, as reported by local Florida news outlets:
DeSantis said that “we’re not seeing a mass movement of [migrants] into Florida.” Instead, the state is using “intelligence” to identify people who enter the U.S. and want to come to Florida and diverting them to “sanctuary cities.”
“We have to go and figure out, ‘OK, who are those people likely to be,’ and if you can do it at the source and divert to sanctuary jurisdictions, the chance they end up in Florida is much less,” the governor said.
That’s the verbal equivalent of a guy selling TVs out of a truck trying to gloss over where he got the goods. So you need to do a close read to figure out what he’s actually implying. “We’re not seeing a mass movement of migrants into Florida” is DeSantis’s way of admitting that his state is not dealing with a mass influx of undocumented border crossings. Politically, this is important for DeSantis to say, because, while Florida does receive a fair number of immigrants entering the country without official status, a lot of those people come by boat and a number of them come from Cuba. People of Cuban descent are a huge part of the Republican base in Florida, so DeSantis has to assure that constituency that he’s only treating other immigrants like unwanted trash, not Cuban immigrants.
But in so doing, DeSantis admits that Florida doesn’t have a problem with illegal border crossings, so he has to invent a different problem. His solution is to say that there are people who enter the United States but “want to come to Florida.” He says he’s using “intelligence” to figure out who these people “are likely to be.”
Folks, I don’t know what “intelligence” is available to DeSantis that lets him know that a person plans to come to Florida one day, but it sure sounds like all DeSantis is doing is racially profiling people. He didn’t go to Chicago and steal two planeloads of Ukrainians to send them to Martha’s Vineyard.
An able media would be demanding to see what, if any, evidence DeSantis had suggesting that the 48 people who were in San Antonio intended to migrate to Florida. My guess is that he has none, not a stitch, and that his “intelligence” was based entirely on the ethnicity of the people he stole from Texas and not any evidence that they wanted to come to Florida.
But even focusing on DeSantis’s lack of intelligence buries the lede, because the other problem with the statement is that there is nothing necessarily illegal or improper about immigrants’ traveling to Florida. The idea that DeSantis can just decide who can visit or move to his state and then “intercept” those he doesn’t want is fascist. It’s not like the governor of New York can identify which Republican, MAGA, forced-birth fanatics are likely to want to come to New York and then block them from getting here. Kathy Hochul cannot “intercept” Lindsey Graham before he comes to prostrate himself in front of Trump Tower.
An investigation into these events has been opened by Bexar County, Tex., Sheriff Javier Salazar. San Antonio is in Bexar County, so Salazar has jurisdiction over any of DeSantis’s agents on the ground who participated in the scheme to lure these people out of San Antonio.
We must now turn to what DeSantis did with the people he lured out of Texas. To help combat the charges that he kidnapped these people, DeSantis went on Sean Hannity’s program. Hannity began with a monologue about how the victims were put up in hotels, fed, and “offered haircuts” by DeSantis’s people. It reminded me of that time former Fox host Bill O’Reilly defended slavery by saying the enslaved people who built the White House were “well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.” Then again, the things the average white Fox viewer believes haven’t changed much since 1787. When Hannity stopped defending DeSantis long enough to allow DeSantis to defend himself, the governor said this: “And not only that—they all signed consent forms to go. And then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard. It had the numbers for different services on Martha’s Vineyard. And then it had numbers for the overall agencies in Massachusetts that handle things involving immigration and refugees. So it was voluntary. And all of the other nonsense you’re hearing is just not true.”
I have already written about why telling people they’re going to one place and sending them to another is not a “voluntary trip.” It should be common sense that consent given under false pretenses is not consent at all. If DeSantis consents to come to my house for dinner, but once he gets here I give him a bucket of water and set my house on fire, DeSantis does not suddenly become a volunteer firefighter. He becomes a victim in my insurance fraud scheme. All the signed consent forms in the world are meaningless pieces of paper if those signatures were induced with lies and false representations.
Amazingly, in the Hannity interview DeSantis confirms a piece of evidence that can be used to show the false representations he and his agents made to these immigrants. He says the people were given a “packet” that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard and other relevant information. We know about that packet, because it’s a key part of the class-action lawsuit some of the immigrants have filed against Florida.
According to the immigrants and DeSantis himself, that packet contained a brochure about the services offered in Massachusetts. The problem is that the brochure was fake. The brochure was not produced by any official or group in Martha’s Vineyard or Massachusetts, and it touted services that are not available to immigrants. Instead, the brochure was made up by somebody who was somehow involved in this plot, and they appear to have cribbed some of the claims made in the fake brochure from a Massachusetts refugee program.
I know that the people who are most likely to support DeSantis are also the kind of people who think “refugee,” “asylum seeker,” “illegal alien,” “foreign brown person,” and “rapist and criminals” are all the same thing. But DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, damn well knows the legal difference. He knows that refugees are entitled to resettlement benefits and asylum seekers are not. He knows that telling asylum seekers about benefits given to refugees is misleading, and he knows that the immigrants in question would have likely relied on his false representations.
To pull everything together: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis orchestrated a plot to lure 48 lawful asylum seekers out of their lodgings in Texas and onto a plane, using false inducements and outright lies. And he did it as a cheap political stunt to excite a base of despicable people who are okay with using brown people as weapons.
If we had a real media, more people would be outraged by this, and if we had a real Justice Department, DeSantis wouldn’t get away with it.