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Investment conference in Miami cancels DeSantis’ speech over ‘anti-immigrant’ views

The event is billed as an educational gathering for global professionals who work with “high net worth individuals, tax and immigration attorneys, migration agents and project developers.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Governor’s Luncheon on opening day of the Florida State Fair at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Governor’s Luncheon on opening day of the Florida State Fair at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Mar. 24|Updated Mar. 25

TALLAHASSEE — A conference of immigration attorneys and wealth management companies who work with international investors and real estate developers has rescinded its invitation to Gov. Ron DeSantis to be the keynote speaker at its Miami conference next month after some participants and sponsors objected to his immigration policies.

“I was seriously considering your kind invitation until I was informed that you have decided to ask Ron DeSantis to be the keynote speaker at the conference,’’ wrote Ira Kurzban, a prominent Miami immigration lawyer, in an email to the conference hosts, EB-5 Investors Magazine. Kurzban shared his email with the Miami Herald.

“Mr. DeSantis, also known as a Mini-Me for his Trump-like tactics, has engaged in the most virulent anti-immigrant conduct we have ever seen by a public official in this state,’’ he wrote.

The governor’s office said late Thursday that its external affairs office had no record of the event and referred questions to the governor’s reelection campaign, which may have handled scheduling. The campaign has not responded to a request for comment. EB-5 Investors Magazine also has not responded to a request for comment.

Kurzban, the past national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, detailed his objections to DeSantis: the governor’s support of lawsuits to reinstate the Trump administration immigration policy to return people caught at the border to detention centers in Mexico, his use of taxpayer money to send the Florida National Guard to the Texas border, his support of legislation blocking the transport of undocumented immigrants into the state, and his order directing state law enforcement to stop any undocumented persons who are released into Florida.

Kurzban, who is nationally recognized for his immigration work and whose Immigration Law Sourcebook is known as a resource in the legal community, was invited to be a panelist at the 2022 EB-5 & Global Immigration Expo, scheduled for April 7-8 in Miami.

The event is billed as an educational gathering for global professionals who work with “high net worth individuals, tax and immigration attorneys, migration agents and project developers,” and it promoted Florida’s Republican governor as the keynote luncheon speaker, followed by a VIP roundtable discussion with him.

But Kurzban warned that the governor could draw protesters to the conference and urged the organizers to “disassociate yourselves from this outlier politician.”

His email then prompted several conference sponsors and panelists to raise their own objections to the governor’s appearance, and others also urged the conference sponsors to rescind the invitation.

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“We are sponsors as well as speakers. If we had known that you would be inviting DeSantis as the keynote speaker, we would have given this event a miss,’’ wrote Mona Shah, an attorney based in New York, in an email on Wednesday. “Even now, I am considering withdrawing from the event. EB-5 is all about welcoming immigrants and inviting this man as keynote just sends the wrong message.”

Marie Ekberg Padilla, senior editor and vice president of operations for EB-5 Investors Magazine, quickly responded.

“As a bipartisan organization, the keynote was simply chosen as the highest figure in the state of our event, and we have historically had keynotes from both sides of the aisle,’’ she wrote in the email to Kurzban and others. “With that, a decision has been made to reconsider DeSantis. He will not be joining our event in Miami.”

Early Thursday morning, the organizers sent an email to conference participants that read: “Announcement: Governor DeSantis has been canceled for Miami.’’

Organizers instead focused on its lineup of “moderated panels, a top 25 luncheon, networking opportunities and an event cocktail!”

According to the agenda of the annual conference, the event featured discussion of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, a federal program that allows investors and their immediate family members to receive permanent green cards and relocate to the U.S. if their eligible investment creates at least 10 new U.S. jobs.

Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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