White House compares GOP governors to 'smugglers' for treatment of expelled migrants

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Dozens of asylum seekers say they were lured into boarding buses or planes headed to Washington, DC and Martha's Vineyard with promises of jobs and housing.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre compared the actions of Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott to “smugglers” on Friday after both took credit for trafficking several asylum seeking migrants out of their states into other locales without prior notice.

“They used them as political pawns, treated them like chattel in a cruel, premeditated political stunt,” Jean Pierre said, citing reports that several asylum seekers were misled about the trips they were being persuaded to take, then left at destinations without direction or accommodations in place.

Abbott, the governor of Texas, sent a group of migrants from the state via bus to Washington, D.C., where they were dropped off near the Naval Observatory, the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, chartered two flights of migrants from his state to Martha’s Vineyard, an island in Massachusetts.

“These vulnerable migrants were reportedly misled about where they were headed. Told they would be headed to Boston, misled about what they would be provided when they arrived, promised shelter, refuge, benefits and more," Jean-Pierre said about Abbott's and DeSantis' actions.

“These are the kinds of tactics we see from smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala.”

NPR reported that a number of the migrants in Martha's Vineyard, who were largely Venezuelan, believed that they were being transported from San Antonio, Texas, to Boston – not the island about 100 miles south of there. Some migrants said they were told by a woman only known to them as "Perla" that they would be taken to Boston and given expedited documents from there. She reportedly gave them food while pledging they would be getting "help" if they went.

Rachel Self, an immigration lawyer based in Boston who met with the families, told reporters that they were “lied to again and again and fraudulently induced to board the planes.” Self said they were promised jobs and housing and she criticized Florida officials for “intentionally” choosing not to alert Massachusetts officials that the groups of people were coming in.

DeSantis first publicly proposed the idea of transporting migrants out of state in a budget request in December 2021, telling reporters he believed that “If you sent them to Delaware or Martha’s Vineyard or some of these places, that border would be secure the next day.”

Republicans have criticized Biden over immigration issues since the beginning of his presidency, when he overturned many of the anti-immigration policies put in place by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

Conservatives have used the same language as recognized anti-immigrant hate groups, referring to migrant arrival as a “border crisis.”

On Friday, conservative network Fox News — where DeSantis has been a frequent guest and object of affection amid hundreds of hours of anti-immigrant content by hosts such as Tucker Carlson, who suggested the same tactic on air in July — praised his actions as "genius."

Jean-Pierre noted that President Joe Biden has made comprehensive immigration proposals and moving forward on other issues like infrastructure, clean energy investments, and managing labor issues such as a recent railroad labor dispute that ended this week.

She accused the governors of arranging a “photo op” instead of “creating actual solutions” with regard to immigration. In April. the administration announced that it would commit over $50 million to dismantle human smuggling networks and also stated on Tuesday that over 5,000 arrests have been made by the United States and law enforcement partners in nations across Latin America as part of that effort.

In addition to the White House, other prominent Democrats also condemned the stunt.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, requesting an investigation into the transportation of migrants, writing, “I urge [the] US DOJ to investigate whether the alleged fraudulent inducement would support charges of kidnapping under relevant state laws.”

Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, also sent a separate letter to Garland asking for “an immediate investigation,” while also condemning DeSantis in a statement where she said he had “fallen to a new low.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.