TAMPA — Members of the Venezuelan community and local advocates on Thursday criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who sent two charter planes with undocumented immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a traditional summer destination for celebrities and public figures.
William Diaz, a community leader in Central Florida and founder of the Casa de Venezuela network in the U.S., said DeSantis doesn’t care about immigrants and he’s only paying attention to the midterm elections in November. Casa de Venezuela promotes democracy and freedom and helps Venezuelan refugees.
”Our governor definitely wants to get some kind of political advantage for the midterm elections. The Legislature approved millions to assist immigrants who have suffered the consequences of COVID, but not to pay for planes carrying migrants from Texas to Massachusetts just to be nice to the governor of Texas and Arizona.”
DeSantis had been talking about busing undocumented immigrants to President Biden’s home state of Delaware for nearly a year, and his administration had set aside $12 million for the effort. The Republican governor’s office said the flights were part of the state’s relocation program even though the trips started in Texas, not Florida, according to the Miami Herald.
Most of the 50 migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard came from Venezuela, according to the Herald, and attorneys speaking for them say they were lied to and promised jobs and housing.
Venezuelan journalist Carlos Bohorquez, 37, of Tampa, decried DeSantis’ actions. Bohorquez is among the 140,000 refugees or asylum-seekers across the United States who have left Venezuela as the once-stable nation deteriorates under the shadow of the late socialist leader, Hugo Chavez, and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.
“I don’t have a partisan view so I don’t care where an action like this comes from because I will always repudiate it,” said Bohorquez. “Immigrants, especially in Florida, are a fundamental part of the local growth and economy. Trying to ignore our immigrants fleeing cruel regimes is an inhumane act.”
Venezuelan democracy was held up for a long time as one of the successful examples in Latin America since its establishment in 1958. But the Chavez regime at the end of the 1990s and the subsequent populist decisions established by Maduro tanked the national economy.
Few options or opportunities remain for the nation’s people. About 6.8 million Venezuelans have left their homeland. The Venezuelan population in the U.S. increased over 125% to 540,000 in the last decade, more than people with roots in any other nation, according to the Pew Research Center. About half of the Venezuelans in the U.S. live in Florida.
Isaret Jeffers, a local activist and farmworker advocate, said DeSantis made a mistake — “but only from a humanitarian point of view” and lauded the governor’s efforts to protect Florida.
”I believe that there are enough organizations and community activists that could have better advised the governor on such a sensitive issue,” Jeffers said. “We are talking about people, lives, and families that have been fleeing a certain situation.
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”But, at the same time, we must understand the position of the governor as the authority of the state. Here, in Florida, there is a lot of need and there are many established immigrants looking for an opportunity. I think governor DeSantis has made a decision based on not limiting or sacrificing our state.”
Adelys Ferro, director of the Venezuelan-American Caucus in Miami, said immigrants are at the heart of Florida and they’re not pieces of a political game.
“One in five Floridians is an immigrant,” said Ferro in an email. “Stop using Venezuelans as props for your political games! You cannot rail against Nicolás Maduro and then despise Venezuelan immigrants when they seek refuge in your state.”