The 15 Cuban refugees whose makeshift boat chanced to land on Florida's largest nude beach on Labor Day would have been convenient "unauthorized aliens" for Gov. Ron DeSantis to place aboard the two charter jets he had fly into into Martha's Vineyard last week.
Had some of those 15 been aboard, DeSantis likely could have filled both of the 30-seat Fairchild Dornier 328 jets from among the 100 other Cuban refugees who arrived over Labor Day weekend. And if DeSantis wanted to go through with his threat to fly and bus more "unauthorized aliens" into "sanctuary states," he could recruit from among the 1,300 who have arrived directly from Cuba to his state since last October. That number is up more than 600 percent over last year.
But Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez triggered a political furor back in August when she suggested on a radio program that Florida might bus newly arrived Cuban refugees from Florida to President Joe Biden's home state of Delaware.
So, rather than displease the formidable Cuban American community in Florida, DeSantis went to the trouble and expense of hiring a contractor to hustle migrants into boarding his charter planes in San Antonio, Texas. And, lest the passengers include some of the record 176,000 Cubans who have arrived at the southern border by land over the past year, the contractor appears to have targeted only Venezuelans and a few Colombians.
But the contractor had no problem including seven children. The flights were paid for with $615,000 from a $12 million appropriation by the state legislature "for implementing a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law." The money was drawn from the accrued interest on federal COVID relief funds. The interest, it turns out, is not subject to the same restrictions as the actual funds.
There remained the legislature's requirement that the money be spent to transport "unauthorized aliens" from Florida. The immigrants on the planes were never in Florida save for the 45 minutes when DeSantis' planes touched down in Crestview on the way to Martha's Vineyard. DeSantis demonstrated that he had not gone to Harvard Law School for nothing. He contended that the people who boarded planes in Texas intended to go eventually to Florida and would have ended up there.
The whole thing was a political stunt funded via a loophole and enabled by a falsehood. DeSantis made it all the more shameful by ridiculing those who were outraged by this trafficking in humans, whether or not it fit the legal definition of human trafficking.
This Isn't the First Time White Racists Have Sent Migrants North on Buses (Though Using Planes Is New)
The refugees proved to have been lured with false promises of jobs and housing far from where they were most likely to secure either. They also found themselves a great distance from the immigration courts where they would have to appear or face deportation.
Many Martha's Vineyard residents responded to the surprise arrival of the refugees with offers of food and shelter. The high school's entire AP Spanish class volunteered to serve as interpreters.
But DeSantis sought to portray the islanders as a bunch of rich liberals who voiced concern for the poor and downtrodden only as long as they kept a distance.
"Their virtue signaling is a fraud," he declared at a press conference.
An opposing voice of decency comes from Maikel Cervantes, a 41-year-old painter and handyman who chanced to be strolling Haulover Beach on Labor Day. It was early enough in the morning that the folks who make it Florida's largest nude beach had not started appearing. The refugees aboard a makeshift boat that reached the shore up ahead of him were thereby spared an additional culture shock.
"They came from eastern Cuba," Cervantes later told The Daily Beast. "Thirteen male, two females. And they were pretty good for being 10 days on the sea. They were a little bit burned, but they were OK."
Cervantes is himself a Cuban refugee, having been lucky in a visa lottery 22 years ago. He knows that conditions in Cuba have since gotten only worse.
"There is little food to eat," he said. "There's no transportation. And on top of all of that, they got blackouts all night," he said. "It is horrible. And you can't even express yourself. You can't even complain."
Cervantes understands that the situation is at least as bad in Venezuela, which is run by a dictator whose like-minded predecessor called Fidel Castro "my brother." And Cervantes has deep sympathy for all those who are driven to make a desperate effort to reach America, whether they endure 10 days at sea or walk thousands of miles.
"They risk their life," he said.
He feels that those who shun the refugees-wherever they come from-are signaling a lack of simple decency.
"That's kind of cruel, you know," he said. "It's nonhuman."
From what he can tell, America has lots of room and opportunity.
"It's always a place here for everybody, you know?" he said.
The last he saw of the 15 people on the makeshift boat, they were being given water and some kind of sustenance by a Miami-Dade Rescue Department unit that rolled onto the beach.
Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol subsequently took them into custody. An agency spokesman told The Daily Beast on Monday that he was only able to report their fate in general terms.
"All arriving migrants who make landfall regardless of nationality are taken into U.S. Border Patrol custody, interviewed, and processed for removal proceedings," the spokesman said.
What is certain is that DeSantis did not put any of those 15 on a charter bound for Martha's Vineyard as part of a heartless lie within a loophole. DeSantis' press office did not respond to a query as to why there were no Cubans aboard the two charter planes.
Had there had been Cubans among the 48 migrants who stepped onto the tarmac in Martha's Vineyard, that could have compromised the goal of this particular form of human trafficking, which vice signaling says was neither sex nor money, but simply power.
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