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Gov. DeSantis’ new migration law is expensive political theater | Column
This new law is a continuation of the governor’s previous anti-immigrant antics.
 
A Venezuelan migrant is led onto a bus at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard in September.
A Venezuelan migrant is led onto a bus at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard in September. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published Feb. 24, 2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently approved an expansion to the program that allows the state to transport migrants throughout the United States. The new law allows an additional $10 million to move migrants not from just within Florida, but from anywhere in the country. If used effectively, this new legislation could be an effective tool at providing humanitarian relief to immigrants and the border communities who assist them.

Michael A. Coon
Michael A. Coon [ Courtesy of Michael A. Coon ]
Abigail R. Hall
Abigail R. Hall [ Courtesy of Abigail R. Hall ]

Many new immigrants use their life savings or borrow money from family and friends for the chance at a better life in the United States. Fortunately, friends, family, aid organizations and most cities and towns have resources to resettle a busload or planeload of new arrivals. Providing transportation to those people and places willing to help this vulnerable population could provide significant help.

But this is not a humanitarian program. Instead of a helpful policy, this is little more than political theater, intended to appeal to anti-immigrant voters at an immense human and financial cost.

This new law is continuation of the governor’s previous anti-immigrant antics. When DeSantis famously flew a group of 50 Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last year, it made big headlines and came at a huge cost to Florida taxpayers — $35,000 per passenger — or $1.75 million. For perspective, the state spends an average of about $7,500 per year for each child enrolled in state schools.

On a commercial airline, a one-way ticket from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard cost around $350, or $100 to go to Boston. For the cost of the Martha’s Vineyard stunt, the governor could’ve moved thousands of immigrants to their choice of destination. The $10 million budget for this new law could help relocate tens of thousands of asylum seekers away from border towns to places they can be safe and easily settle into the community. But that is not the intention of this program. Instead, the governor has declared immigration to be a state of emergency, which allows him to award no-bid contracts to private transportation companies. These companies will move just enough people to dominate the news cycle but will do nothing to relieve the pressure faced by immigrants and border communities. They certainly won’t be cheap.

In addition to being economically dubious, this new law illustrates a clear ignorance or rejection of knowledge about immigration. When announcing the law, the governor claimed that this is a program designed to “protect our citizens” by “transporting illegal aliens to sanctuary jurisdictions.”

Protecting us from what? The governor seems to suggest that migrants are dangerous. This is patently false. Academic research has shown repeatedly that immigrants (both documented and undocumented) are convicted of crimes at much lower rates than native-born citizens.

Is he “protecting” us from economic growth? Research shows that immigrants are an unequivocal benefit to the economy. Migrants are more likely to work and more likely to start a business than native-born citizens. They create jobs, not take them. In Florida, estimates suggest that undocumented immigrants alone contribute approximately $400 million per year to state and local taxes, and close to a $1 billion in federal taxes. He’s certainly not protecting major Florida industries like agriculture and hospitality. Currently experiencing a labor shortage, these businesses rely on — and need — more workers.

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This plan to move migrants also includes another major flaw — the existence of infrastructure. There is no controlled border between Florida and its neighboring states. There is no ban on flights from Boston to Orlando. So even if the governor moves a “dangerous” person out of the state, this policy does nothing to stop migrants from returning.

Migration is a contentious issue in Florida and the United States. It’s unlikely this will change anytime soon. But this new policy is little more than a silly and expensive exercise in political pandering. It will appeal to those who don’t like immigrants, but ultimately fails at its stated objectives and costs Florida taxpayers. Most importantly, this policy looks to harm a group that’s already going through a difficult transition. Migrants are human beings. Many are leaving their homes, families and livelihoods in search of a better life. We owe it to our fellow human beings to help them in their time of need, not put stumbling blocks in their paths.

Michael A. Coon and Abigail R. Hall are associate professors of economics at the University of Tampa.