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Venezuelan migrant advocates blast Gov. DeSantis' 'cruel political stunt,' he calls complaints 'a fraud'


Florida immigrant advocates say they’re “outraged” by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ move on Wednesday to fly undocumented immigrants to Massachusetts — and Venezuelan community leaders are expressing special anger.

DeSantis, without prior warning, sent two planes carrying some 50 undocumented migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. It’s part of a program to relocate migrants to Democrat-led states and cities — to protest what Republicans call President Biden’s lax immigration enforcement.

Most of the migrants flown to Massachusetts are Venezuelan. That's prompted a strong rebuke from Venezuelan community leaders and immigrant advocates in South Florida.

"It's just of DeSantis' cruel political stunt show — using human beings," Adelys Ferro, a Democrat who heads the nonprofit Venezuelan-American Caucus, told WLRN before a press conference in Doral Thursday morning that featured several Venezuelan-Americans and immigration activists.

"He's using Venezuelans to galvanize his extremist base and to gain points for his run for the presidential elections."

Ferro added it's "hypocritical" of GOP politicians to curry votes in the Venezuelan exile community by condemning the socialist dictatorship in Venezuela that so many thousands of Venezuelan refugees are fleeing, "only to turn around and then show, like this, that they really don't want Venezuelans here."

Venezuelan-American Maria Corina Vegas of the American Business Immigration Coaltion said it was "shameless" of DeSantis and Republicans "to traumatize Venezuelan migrant families instead of acknowledging that they make Florida's economy stronger."

Other Republican-led states like Texas have recently sent undocumented migrants to what they call migrant “sanctuary cities” like New York and Washington D.C.

Last month Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez sparked controversy when she told a Miami Spanish-language radio show that DeSantis planned to send even Cuban "illegals" out of Florida to Biden's home state of Delaware. Afterward, DeSantis said he was putting the migrant eviction program on hold.

But on Wednesday he decided to move ahead. Speaking in Niceville, Florida, on Thursday, DeSantis argued states like Texas and Florida are just making places like New York and Massachusetts share responsibility for caring for the wave of migrants crossing the U.S. border.

“The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk, and they’re so upset that this is happening," DeSantis said.

"And it just shows you, y’know, their virtue-signaling is a fraud.”

Migrants who flew to Martha’s Vineyard told NPRthey crossed into Texas and were flown from San Antonio to Florida.

Sarang Sekhavet of the Massachusetts Immigration Reform Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) told WLRN some said they were told they were being taken to get jobs. "I'd say tricked into believing they were being flown to Massachusetts to be given jobs is a better way to put it," Sekhavet said.

The migrants, who include children, are being temporarily sheltered in a Martha's Vineyard church. Sekhavet said the largely wealthy community there is donating money, food, clothing and even COVID-19 tests. But it's not clear where the migrants will eventually be housed long-term.

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. He has reported on Latin America for almost 30 years - for Newsweek as its Mexico City bureau chief from 1990 to 1996, and for Time as its Latin America bureau chief in Mexico and Miami (where he also covered Florida and the U.S. Southeast) from 1996 to 2013.