Ron DeSantis' Martha's Vineyard stunt cruelly uses migrants as human pawns, helping no one

It’s possible to believe America’s immigration system is broken while also condemning the behavior of governors shuttling migrants across the country like cattle to score political points.

Rex Huppke

Brace yourselves, I’m about to believe two things at once.

First, I believe that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to use Florida taxpayers’ money to fly two planes of Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, dumping them on the island without advance notice, is morally reprehensible and an inhumane political stunt.

Second, I believe that America’s immigration system is a mess, and that the Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, has failed to establish a sensible, humane system to handle the massive influx of migrants and asylum seekers arriving at our borders seeking a better and safer life.

DeSantis wants to 'own the libs' all the way to the White House

See, I did it. It’s possible to believe that America’s immigration system is broken and creating a humanitarian crisis while also condemning the behavior of governors using planes and buses to shuttle men, women and children across the country like cattle to score political points among people aroused by cruelty.

Migrants gather with their belongings outside a church on Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. Local leaders say two plane landings here appear to be carrying Venezuelan nationals sent to Massachusetts by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis – who seems to believe he can ride an “own the libs” attitude to the White House – was apparently watching Texas Gov. Greg Abbott with envy as Abbott grabbed headlines for rounding up asylum-seeking migrants and putting them on buses to cities like Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago, all of which are, of course, run by Democrats.

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While border states have ample reason to be fed up with the federal government’s response to record-breaking illegal border crossings, Abbott’s migrant-busing program has all the subtlety of a frat-house prank – it’s funny to those amused by cruel, lowest-common-denominator jokes, but nobody with a scrap of compassion is laughing.

Did Florida's governor follow Tucker Carlson's marching orders?

So along comes Florida’s DeSantis, a man who seems to take governing inspiration from right-wing Twitter memes, with a plan to REALLY stick it to those northern liberals by flying people who have already endured untold horrors fleeing their home country to Martha’s Vineyard, a largely liberal place Fox News hosts love to assail.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has said of Martha’s Vineyard: “They are begging for more diversity. Why not send migrants there, in huge numbers?”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has said of Martha’s Vineyard: “They are begging for more diversity. Why not send migrants there, in huge numbers?”

DeSantis apparently takes orders well.

'We are going to take care of these people'

On Wednesday, with no forewarning to local officials, two planes carrying nearly 50 migrants from Venezuela landed on Martha’s Vineyard. Government officials, faith leaders and residents scrambled to meet the families and provide them with food and shelter and begin lining up the necessary immigration services.

Carla Cooper, head of the Democratic Council of Martha's Vineyard, told USA TODAY: “When something happens to our island, we come together to help. We are going to take care of these people.”

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That echoes what residents and state officials in Illinois, New York and Washington, D.C., have said upon receiving the human beings Abbott and DeSantis are treating as props. They’re being met with compassion and an “OK, we’ll figure this out” attitude, which seems to fly in the face of the “sick burn” the governors are attempting to deliver.

Great stunt, guys. Now how is this actually helping anyone?

Which gets us to an important question: How is any of this helping?

Migrants and asylum seekers are detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Yuma County, Ariz., on July 28, 2022.

Again, we can agree America’s immigration system stinks, desperately needs to be reformed, and isn’t getting the serious attention it deserves from either party. But we can also look at the inhumanity of using people who have already suffered mightily as pawns in a dopey stunt and say: “Hey, knock it off. You might get a kick out of cruelty, but we don’t, and this is helping no one.”

When you're repeating what segregationists did, well ...

To put the awfulness of what Abbott and DeSantis are doing in historical context, consider the fact that segregationists in the South tried the same feeble game in the 1960s. Annoyed by the “Freedom Riders,” Black and white activists from northern states who crisscrossed the South advocating for the integration of buses and bus terminals, segregationists organized the “Reverse Freedom Rides,” offering Black people bus tickets to northern cities.

A woman, who boarded a bus for migrants in Texas, helps a child after being dropped off within view of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 11, 2022.

Clive Webb, a professor at the University of Sussex in England who studies racists, told NPR: “They targeted people who were either welfare recipients or prison inmates. People who were placing a burden, as they saw it, on public resources.”

Americans at that time saw it as a callous ploy, and it fizzled into infamy. The same will happen with this modern-day version.

Claiming you're as bad as the cartels? An odd strategy.

Not helping his boss’ moral case, DeSantis’ deputy press secretary Jeremy Redfern on Thursday responded to a tweet complaining that Martha’s Vineyard officials had no advance notice, tweeting this: “Do the cartels that smuggle humans call Florida or Texas before illegal immigrants wash up on our shores or cross over the border? No. Welcome to being a state on the Southern border, Massachusetts.”

First off, what a complete (expletive). Second, when your defense is to put yourself on the same moral plane as drug cartels, you might want to reevaluate the overall righteousness of your position.

Politicians react to DeSantis flying migrants to Massachusetts:Massachusetts, Florida and Texas politicians react to migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard

The system needs fixing, and there's ample blame to go around

Democrats and Republicans need to come together to address immigration – that’s long, long overdue.

But schlepping human beings – including families with young children – around and dumping them in cities run by people you don’t like isn’t helping anyone.

It’s just scoring points with a social-media-obsessed swath of the population addicted to a steady drip of opportunistic cruelty and dehumanization.

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