Politics

As Haiti descends into lawlessness, the Florida governor said that he could send Haitians to Massachusetts in a repeat of a political stunt he orchestrated in 2022.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Phil Sears/AP

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida threatened to once again send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in a podcast appearance this week. 

During an interview with conservative radio host Dana Loesch, DeSantis was asked about migrants coming to the U.S. from Haiti. The Caribbean nation is in the midst of a spiraling crisis as gangs commit alleged atrocities and international leaders scramble to create a transitional presidential council charged with selecting an interim prime minister. 

DeSantis, whose once-promising campaign to be the GOP’s presidential nominee sputtered in the wake of Donald Trump’s reelection bid, said that he would not be able to get clearance to deport migrants back to Haiti or other nations. He blamed the federal government for influencing those countries and telling them not to accept people who are being deported from the U.S. 

He expressed support for efforts to deport migrants back over the Mexican border in Texas or Arizona, but said that Florida’s status as a “maritime state” complicates matters. 

“We really have to get them before they reach the shores and that’s why we’re working so hard to do that,” DeSantis said. “Although I will say this: We do have our transport program also that’s going to be operational. So, Haitians land in the Florida Keys, their next stop very well may be Martha’s Vineyard.”

In September 2022, DeSantis took credit for flying dozens of newly arrived migrants from Texas to the Vineyard. He said at the time that the transfer program was designed “to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.” 

Residents of the island were caught unaware, as were many of the migrants themselves. Advocates and elected officials said that the migrants were lured onto the plane through false pretenses, and some had no idea that they would be left on the Vineyard at the end of tourist season instead of in Boston. A Texas sheriff launched an investigation into the matter, and Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis. 

The migrants were subject to hateful messages and death threats, even as local residents and officials rallied to provide shelter, food, and other services. 

According to a report from “60 Minutes” a year later, the political stunt cost Florida more than $600,000. 

Earlier this month, DeSantis activated more law enforcement personnel and National Guard members to patrol the waters off Florida “in anticipation of a potential influx of illegal immigrants from Haiti.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Co-Chair of the House Haiti Caucus, condemned DeSantis’ remarks.

“That DeSantis would continue exploiting vulnerable families is unconscionable but unsurprising from a failed presidential candidate seeking to stay relevant,” Pressley said in a statement. “Families fleeing unspeakable violence in Haiti and other countries deserve to be met with compassion—not to be used as pawns in Republicans’ cruel political games.”

Pressley teamed up with Sen. Ed Markey and other federal lawmakers this week to urge the Biden administration to pause all deportation flights to Haiti until conditions improve there. They also pushed for Department of Homeland Security Secretary and Department of State to redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti. This would let Haitians in the U.S. stay in the country until conditions improve in Haiti, according to Pressley’s office.

“It is far past time to take federal action to stabilize Haiti and save lives. That means immediately halting deportations to the island, redesignating TPS for Haiti, cracking down on arms trafficking to Haiti, supporting a Haitian-led democratic transition, and providing the security, humanitarian, and economic assistance that the island needs,” Pressley said in a statement Wednesday.

Haitians who have already fled their home country to migrate to Massachusetts have been helped by volunteers as officials work to find more shelter space throughout the state. 

“We’re going through a very tragic moment in our country. We have no safety. We cannot definitely have all our needs met in Haiti,” Ernseau Admettre, a migrant, told the Associated Press in December. “Leaving Haiti was the best solution to survive.”

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