Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas are playing disgusting games with vulnerable refugees because they, like our former president, are bullies and small people. Driven by their fear and insecurity, they lash out at folks who are less powerful and vulnerable.
That said, is what they did illegal?
Their political stunt designed to confront Democrats about the state of the nation’s immigration system, loaded immigrants on planes and buses bound for left leaning places to the north.
But while the racist and petty intent from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is clear, the heartless relocations left increased the uncertainty of the future of the human beings involved and raised issues about how the immigration system and what legal issues are involved.
Were any laws broken when Mr. Abbott sent nearly a hundred migrants, including children, to be dropped off by bus without warning outside the vice president’s residence in Washington D.C., and when Mr. DeSantis arranged for about 50 more to be flown on private planes to Martha’s Vineyard, the island vacation spot in Massachusetts.
All the migrants involved entered the United States without legal permission and immediately turned themselves in to immigration authorities and requested political asylum. This is a right they have under United States immigration law under a program created essentially after the world’s colossal failure to respond to the holocaust. Millions were slaughtered before the United States and the rest of the world woke up to their moral responsibility to act. Today, of course, our country is slipping dangerously backwards as white supremacist nationalist activity is on the rise and increasingly present in the mainstream.
After these migrants were taken into custody, they were screened for a minimal right to asylum and released to face immigration court proceedings in the future.
Virtually all these migrants plan to request asylum, claiming that they face persecution in their home countries and are afraid to return. There are virtually no other forms of immigration relief available to these migrants unless they have immediate family members who can file for them. This is highly unlikely because if this were the case it would have happened by now. Venezuelans who entered the United States in the past were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This does not apply to these migrants. This group also includes many Cubans who now are no longer beneficiaries of the policy known as “wet foot dry foot” which was ended during the Obama administration. (There is some question whether there are some limited avenues available under the former policy.)
The asylum process takes an extraordinarily long time because of the immigration court backlog. During this process, while migrants are free to travel and live where they like in the United States and it’s not illegal for a state government to pay for that travel, it’s imperative that immigration officials know where they are so they can be notified of upcoming appointments and hearings because failing to appear can be fatal to their claims. It is abundantly clear that this relocation will complicate the ability of the government to keep track of these migrants exponentially increasing the likelihood that they will be denied asylum because they could not be located by immigration officials.
Moreover, if there is proof the migrants were lied to by state officials about where they were going or what awaited them, the migrants could pursue legal claims for fraud or severe emotional distress.
In addition, there is an argument that these migrants are being denied their constitutional right to due process, since the trip to Massachusetts means they will be unable to attend their immigration court appointments in San Antonio, Texas. They were coerced into abandoning their court proceedings with false promises.
Finally, and most significantly, the actions of Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Abbott are very likely human trafficking or even kidnapping, as the migrants boarded the flights or buses based up lies and fraud and was therefore unwilling.
It’s no surprise that the recent migrant relocations are modeled after the so-called Reverse Freedom Rides arranged by white segregationists in 1962 to retaliate against those opposing segregation in the South. The segregationists falsely promised jobs and permanent housing to Black Americans, resulting in about 200 of them traveling north. Those families, too, were dropped off in Massachusetts, near the holiday home of President John F. Kennedy. The difference now is that it’s not private actors but government officials invoking this disgraceful and ugly racist tactic.