Florida Democrats decry DeSantis' proposed inhumane Hispanic immigrant removal plan

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Gubernatorial candidates Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist were among those who condemned proposals by the governor and other Republicans to bus mostly Cuban migrants out of the Sunshine State.

Although the Democratic primary for governor is being held on Tuesday, the top two candidates for the Democratic nomination for Governor — Rep. Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried — took time to condemn a plan supported by current Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to bus “illegal” Cuban migrants to Delaware, the home state of President Joe Biden.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, a Republican and Cuban American, claimed the proposed policy is in the works while making an appearance on a radio show on Friday. "He’s [DeSantis] going to send them, very frankly, to the State of Delaware, the state of the President,” she said.

Nuñez directly compared the current amount of people migrating to Florida to that of the influx following the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, a period when 125,000 Cuban refugees came to Florida with the endorsement and encouragement of the Cuban government which caused notable issues at the end of then-President Jimmy Carter's administration.

"This is going to be worse than Mariel, worse than everything that happened," Nuñez said, "the impacts in the 1980s and to not do anything is not an option."

DeSantis first proposed the plan in December 2021, when he asked the Florida Legislature for $8 million to contract with private transportation companies to convey illegal immigrants out of the state. His proposal calls for the plan to be paid for via interest accrued from federal funds. "If you sent them to Delaware or Martha’s Vineyard or some of these places, that border would be secure the next day," he claimed at a press conference at the time, according to the Miami Herald.

“Gov. DeSantis's proposal to forcibly transport Cuban refugees out of Florida is reckless, inhumane and a betrayal of our deepest values as Americans," Rep. Crist, who previously served as governor from 2007-2011, tweeted. "They deserve better than to be treated as his political pawns to curry favor with the extremist base of the Republican Party.”

Fried, the state's Commissioner of Agriculture who is currently the only statewide-elected Democrat in state government, also tweeted: Wildly inappropriate words from Ron DeSantis’ LG [Nuñez]. Fleeing communism and tyranny to a state rich with family and culture only to be deported north by bus is cruel and wrong.”

The two gubernatorial candidates weren't the only ones to condemn the proposal. Manny Diaz, a Cuban-American and the former mayor of Miami, Florida, also spoke out against it. Diaz was not only a two-term mayor, but was named an Outstanding American by Choice by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service in 2007.

He tweeted: “As a Cuban, I am disgusted by ['s] statement calling for members of our communities - including Cubans, Venezuelans and Haitians - to be bused away from their families in Florida, immigrants who came to the United States escaping dictatorial and communist regimes.”

Florida is home to the third largest Hispanic population in the country (after California and Texas), and an increasingly growing group of Cubans are becoming important constituents of Florida’s Republican Party

DeSantis’ plan echoes actions taken by other Republicans across the country in states such as Texas and Arizona. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has sent busloads of people seeking asylum to Washington D.C. and New York City under an initiative to protest President Biden’s revocation of Title 42, a Trump-era provision enacted during the pandemic allowing the U.S. government to deport migrants seeking asylum in order to prevent the spread of disease. Abbott's initiative has resulted in 6,100 people being transported out of Texas since April.

Neither cities had infrastructure in place to deal with the sudden influx of people, but grant-funded services and non-profit organizations have stepped in, sometimes helping people move to other states — including back to Texas. Abbott’s transportation policy has been called out as a political stunt or gimmick by members of both parties.

The extent to which these bussing policies are voluntary is debatable. According to CNN, New York City mayor Eric Adams and other city officials have suggested that Abbott 'forces' people onto the buses under his policies, an accusation which he denies. 

Earlier this month, Nikki Fried published an opinion piece in the South Florida Sun Sentinel calling for comprehensive immigration reform, stating, “The contributions of immigrants to our economy, our culture and our society are undeniable, and it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect. Immigrants deserve nothing less.” 

Although both Crist and Fried are competing for the Democratic nomination, they have largely focused on the urgency of defeating Ron DeSantis in the primary, rather than denigrating one another or other candidates. Crist has especially focused not just on defeating DeSantis in the gubernatorial race, but derailing his 2024 presidential bid.

Fried has criticized Crist about his past Republican affiliation, his past support for anti-abortion policy, and the several conservative judges he appointed that serve on the Florida Supreme Court. Crist has out-fundraised Fried and maintains a lead by a significant margin in current polls.

DeSantis, who is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has used his star power to stump for other Trump-endorsed Republican candidates around the country, including Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor in Pennsylvania, Kari Lake, who is seeking the governor’s mansion in Arizona, and J.D. Vance, another Trumpist running for the Senate in Ohio.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.