An ongoing report of Ron DeSantis’ Anti-Immigrant Activity
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to be elected President of the United States in 2024, but faces a major roadblock before he can even get the Republican nomination: Donald Trump. Part of the DeSantis strategy is to outflank Trump on the right, particularly on immigration. In this quest to one-up the cruelty and chaos of Donald Trump, DeSantis, who benefitted from his Italian ancestors immigrating to the United States, has become one of the most vociferous and extreme anti-immigrant politicians in the country. That has included a scheme using vulnerable migrants as political props, and more recently, a ‘show me your papers’ 2.0 proposal. His leap to far-right extremism in the name of his political aspirations has been startling to see.
In Congress, DeSantis was a run-of-the-mill anti-immigrant right-wing Republican, who helped found the Freedom Caucus. But, he became even more extreme when he decided to run for Governor in 2018. After begging for Trump’s endorsement (according to Trump), DeSantis ran on anti-immigrant rhetoric similar to Trump, like building a wall (including an ad where he told his daughter to “build the wall”), ending “sanctuary cities,” and criticizing giving a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. His campaign promises were nothing compared to his administration’s actions in his first term as a governor. He has used the office of Governor as a platform to wage a non-stop culture war and demagogue vulnerable communities, including immigrants. This is clearly part of his calculated strategy as he hoped to replace Donald Trump as the titular head of the Republican party.
During the summer of 2022, DeSantis took his cruelty to a new level when he sent a plane of 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, MA, luring them with false promises of work, housing, and a quicker turnaround time on immigration work authorization. This cruel political ploy drew harsh condemnation, including a comparison by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library to “the Reverse Freedom Rides.” The “Reverse Freedom Rides” were when a white supremacist group in 1962 sent Black Americans to the North with false promises of work and housing. DeSantis quickly took responsibility for this “kidnapping” political ploy and even asked for more funds in his second term to continue the white supremacist copycat political stunt, despite a current criminal investigation underway into his dehumanizing stunt.
Using the 2023 legislative session, DeSantis proposed one of the most draconian laws since the early 2010s. His piece would criminalize those who “harbor” undocumented immigrants and to require hospitals to collect immigration status. It is, in essence, “show us your papers” legislation. He also wants to overturn legislation that allows Florida Dreamers to access in-state tuition, a law signed by his Republican predecessor Rick Scott. DeSantis’ anti-immigrant agenda is a key element of his presidential strategy as he attempts to outflank Trump. As he prepares for that potential campaign, he has hired a speechwriter connected with white supremacists – his own version of Stephen Miller.
In his 2023 biography, DeSantis noted that during his time in Congress, he thought that the bipartisan gang of eight’s immigration reform bill that would have given a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and decreased visa backlogs to be “playing footsie with mass amnesty to advocating for large expansions of immigration levels.” He added Republicans who supported this bill were “woefully out of touch with the people who voted them into office in the first place.” Released as he enters his second term as Governor while preparing his presidential campaign, it is a clear, daunting confirmation of his xenophobic immigration policies and how far out of step he is with the majority of the national electorate.
DeSantis has continued to push this false narrative of Biden opening the southern border and villainizing immigrants even though 16.7 percent of Floridians are foreign-born. DeSantis’ first term was only the beginning of his harmful anti-immigrant policies. In order to compete against Trump for the loyalty of the MAGA base, DeSantis, with the support of state legislatures, is pushing laws to hurt immigrants in Florida. But this Florida man is looking to take his harmful, extremist agenda nationwide.
In an indicative moment that describes DeSantis for early April 2023, when his state suffered serious flooding, he was in Ohio pushing his brand over culture war demagoguery. Like a classic bully, he is more concerned with punching down to make himself look big at the direct expense of addressing the urgent problems facing the residents he ostensibly supposes to lead.
Ron DeSantis is the current Republican Governor of Florida who was first elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2022. He was previously U.S. House Representative for Florida’s 6th congressional district from 2013 to 2018 before running for governor.
In Congress, DeSantis was quick to align himself with the Tea Party movement, the reactionary movement that helped pave the wave for extreme xenophobia of today’s GOP. DeSantis Rep. Jim Jordan and other anti-immigrant zealots and far-right members of Congress were founding members of the House Freedom Caucus.
DeSantis “called for the end of chain migration” – a pejorative term to describe the family-based immigrant visa process –even though his own family’s immigration story that of his great-great-grandmother, Luigia Colucci immigrating to the United States in early 1917 following her husband’s migration could be considered chain migration to some in the Republican party today. A very different immigration story would be told if Colucci came later in 1917 because the Immigration Act of 1917, enacted in May, barred people who were illiterate from entering the U.S. even though she was also fleeing from dangers similar to migrants leaving Central and South America to the southern border. As his family members benefited from the lax immigration laws, DeSantis’ commitment to “Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration through deportations and more border security” is hypocritical at best.
Blatantly unashamed of his ancestral hypocrisy, DeSantis used his image as a fervent defender of Trump’s MAGA platform to rise to notoriety for his gubernatorial campaign. Now claiming to be the champion of the “anti-wokeness” policy agenda that is making Florida, a once immigrant-friendly state, into a reactionary basion where civil rights and immigration groups have issued travel advisories warning about moving throughout the state and mimicking other states whose extreme measures backfired causing serious economic harm to the state.
Desantis was elected to Congress from Florida’s 6th Congressional District in 2012. He served until 2018, when he resigned to run for Governor.
During his five years in Congress, DeSantis continually aligned himself with extreme right-wing GOP members. He championed or co-sponsored numerous pieces of extreme anti-immigrant legislation. Most never became law, but they reveal DeSantis’ priorities. DeSantis sponsored one immigration bill, H.R.4143 – Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act of 2015 to prohibit admittance of refugees from countries that are terrorist-controlled nations. While this bill didn’t make it to the House floor, if passed, it would have restricted the number of refugees and cast refugees from terrorist-controlled nations as threats, rather than victims. All in all, the immigration bills he supported and co-sponsored were to degrade the immigration system to close the border permanently.
Overall he co-sponsored nine anti-immigrant bills in the House, although none of the bills made it to the floor.
- H.R.6318 – Zero Tolerance for Illegal Entry Act and Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act: This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to increase from a misdemeanor to a felony a first-time illegal entry into the United States.
- H.R.1178 – SAFE for America Act: This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the diversity immigrant program.
- H.R.486 – Grant’s Law: This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to require mandatory detention of any alien who is unlawfully present in the United States and arrested for inadmissible or deportable crimes.
- H.R.5619 – Sarah’s Law: This bill would require the detention of undocumented immigrants who have been charged with a crime that resulted in the death or serious bodily injury.
- H.R.3314 – Resettlement Accountability National Security Act of 2015: This bill prohibits the admission of refugees into the United States until Congress passes a joint resolution giving the Department of Homeland Security authority to resume admitting refugees.
- H.R.3151 – Arrest Statistics Reporting Act of 2015: This bill requires the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make an annual arrest report including the persons’ nationality and immigration status.
- H.R.3011 – Establishing Mandatory Minimums for Illegal Reentry Act of 2015: This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to increase penalties applicable to aliens who unlawfully reenter the United States after being removed.
- H.R.4962 – National Border and Homeland Security Act: Amends the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) (Secretary) to complete the required 700 mile southwest border fencing and priority-area fencing, increased funding on the border, and invest in border technology.
- H.R.2278 – SAFE Act: Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act or the SAFE Act – This bill gives states and local governments the power to enforce federal immigration laws and be able to detain and arrest unlawful immigrants.
- H.R.5053 – Expedited Family Reunification Act of 2014: This bill requires any unaccompanied alien child (UAC) who has not been a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons or does not have a credible fear of persecution on returning to be deported to his or her country of nationality or of last habitual residence.
DeSantis’ lackluster legislation record didn’t stop him from pursuing stricter immigration laws as he ran for governor of Florida.
DeSantis’ 2018 Gubernatorial Campaign
When DeSantis entered the Republican primary for governor in 2018, he was up against the establishment favorite, Adam Putnam. But DeSantis gained momentum after receiving an endorsement of Trump. He was a vocal supporter of Trump in the House and, more importantly, on FOX News. According to Trump, “He had nothing! He was dead, he was leaving the race, he came over and he begged me, begged me, for an endorsement. There were tears coming down from his eyes. He said ‘if you endorse me, I’ll win.’” The GOP primary for Governor in Florida really came down to who could be the most aligned with Trump. This meant campaigning on narratives similar to Trump, that would restrict immigration and demagogue the southern border. The DeSantis campaign frequently called his primary opponent “amnesty Adam.” On his campaign website, DeSantis promised Floridians to stop illegal immigration by increasing E-Verify in Florida businesses and eliminating sanctuary cities.
Ignoring the immigration story of his Italian ancestors who came with no merit, DeSantis further supported eliminating the diversity visa lottery calling it “not the best way to make America competitive…we need to move to a merit-based system.” DeSantis’ campaign expanded on this point and stated that the way to stop illegal immigration is “demanding the end of the diversity lottery, the end of chain migration and the border wall”. However, two out of the three points he made are legal pathways of immigrating to the United States, which of course would do nothing to stop illegal immigration but signals his goal of eliminating legal immigration to the U.S. as well. The diversity visa lottery program exists for the sole purpose of promoting diversity in the immigration system by providing individuals from countries that have lower rates of immigration to move to the United States and gain the chance to achieve the American Dream. The program has staggeringly very low acceptance rates because of its low number of open spots of about 50,000. Chain migration, which again is a pejorative term used to describe family members immigrating to the U.S. through another family member, is legal under the current immigration laws in order to unify family members but has very strict conditions on who are able to legally immigrate.
As he fanboyed Trump’s restrictionist immigration policies, DeSantis produced a political ad featuring his children “playing” with their Lego blocks to “build the wall,” and teaching them how to read with a “Make America Great Again” Trump election sign. DeSantis also previously attended a conference called “Restoration Weekend” where fellow right-wingers like Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos convened, four times in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017. During the speeches, DeSantis praised David Horowitz, the organizer for the conference who is a conservative activist who has said that “African Americans owe their freedom to white people” and that “the country’s ‘only serious race war’ is against whites.” Despite these revelations, the MAGA Republican Governor candidate won by a slim margin embracing MAGA platforms in 2018. Since then he has risen to become the model for the far-right movement in the GOP.
DeSantis First Term: Kidnapping Families Seeking Asylum
In his first term, DeSantis got to work advancing his anti-immigration agenda. He required local cities to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and expand E-Verify. The E-Verify was very controversial within the GOP according to WUFT, “Many Republican lawmakers were caught between choosing business interests or the conservative voter base during an election year. Business groups — especially the agricultural, construction and hospitality industries that rely on migrant labor — have financially supported Republican campaigns while advocating against E-Verify.” The final bill, which DeSantis signed into law, was much weaker than his initial proposal, only requiring employers and companies that contract with the state to use E-verify. Private employers did not have to use the system but could face penalties after audits. DeSantis also signed a law to ban so-called sanctuary cities in Florida.
DeSantis was also looking for ways to outflank potential presidential challenges. Like Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, on the right. In his vain, DeSantis hatched a plot to kidnap 50 asylum seekers, including women and children, to be used as pawns in his gross political stunt. In September 2022, 50 migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas on a plane with false promises of “expedited work papers,” employment and housing as incentives for getting on the flight.
DeSantis quickly admitted to this cruel political stunt that plays on vulnerable migrants’ lives with Floridian taxpayer’s funds to transport migrants from another state, Texas. His hope was that the residents of Martha’s Vineyard would respond negatively to the arrival of the migrants. But, the opposite occurred as the residents welcomed the refugees and did what they could to provide support for the unsuspecting arrivals.
While this action was widely condemned as inhumane, DeSantis did not back down from his administration’s actions of transporting people to another place without their full knowledge of where they were headed. His administration stated that because sanctuary cities are proud of being sanctuary cities and that “they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden Administration’s open border policies.” Rather than rescinding the political stunt, in his Freedom First Budget, which details Florida’s budget from 2022 to 2023, the DeSantis administration doubled down by stating that “Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them,” and along with his facilitation Florida legislature, approved “a $12 million program within the Florida Department of Transportation to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens out of Florida.”
A class action suit was filed against DeSantis’ administration for kidnapping these migrants, but Florida taxpayers are now on the hook for covering the legal expenses of DeSantis’ kidnapping case. Other Governors like Abbott from Texas and Ducey from Arizona have all pulled similar stunts, but DeSantis is the only governor to use their citizens’ taxpayer money to transport humans from other states to other states without them having ever entered Florida. DeSantis’ motivation to pull this political stunt is for the larger picture: to be Trump’s replacement for the Republican party. DeSantis and his Florida state legislature minions are happy to use taxpayer dollars to pay for his political theater that is indirectly tied to his future presidential campaign.
The 2023 Legislative Session: DeSantis Presidential Agenda Unfolds with’ Draconian Show-Me-Your-Papers Law
In his second term, DeSantis has increased his anti-immigrant attacks as he eyes the Republican presidential primary. Before his 2023 State of the State address, DeSantis released an immigration plan that he claimed would counteract the so-called “Biden’s Border Crisis.” The plan was the sort of anti-immigrant extremism that was reminiscent of the “show-me-your-papers” legislation from a decade ago. DeSantis’ plan also called for the legislature to rescind in-state tuition for immigrants with Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Stripping education opportunities from Dreamers isn’t likely a popular idea, but it is indicative of his draconian agenda. Even Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez sponsored the law for in-state tuition for Floridian DACA recipients when she was a state representative.
Many Republicans in the Florida state legislature rushed to line up behind DeSantis’ extreme anti-immigrant agenda with SB 1718, which includes most of the aspects from his immigration package. Despite the backlash of the bill, the Florida Senate panel approved the bill on March 21st to be brought up to the floor. This bill is similar to the infamous “show me your papers” law in Arizona, but worse. Passing SB 1718 does not only negatively impact undocumented immigrants but also means criminalizing anyone and any organization from giving identifications to undocumented immigrants and making other states’ right to issue identification invalid and even being together in transportation. Going further, this bill forces hospitals to track how much money is spent on undocumented immigrant patients in the emergency rooms, check for citizenships in hospitals for services, and repeal a 2014 law that allows undocumented immigrants from practicing law in Florida. DeSantis’ administration wants to restrict undocumented immigrants’ rights, as echoed by other prominent xenophobic anti-immigrants like Trump’s former aide Stephen Miller.
DeSantis’ War on Education
DeSantis’ xenophobic immigration policies are not his only attacks directed at vulnerable communities. As he proclaimed at the Turning Point conference in 2022 “Florida is where woke goes to die.” DeSantis’ defined “woke” as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them”. Not only are DACA recipients at risk of losing access to their education, but DeSantis is censoring the educational curriculum from Kindergarten through college. Last year, DeSantis signed a bill called Stop WOKE Act which “aims to restrict educating children and others about the United States’ legacy of racism in schools and workplaces,” and includes prohibiting teaching any material that would cause “‘guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress’ due to their race, color, sex or national origin”. DeSantis required all books in Florida school libraries to be checked and banned if deemed inappropriate under this law. The law took effect in July 2022 and students are already reeling from the consequences of DeSantis’ racist law.
DeSantis’ Ongoing Extremism
While DeSantis’ soft launch of this presidential bid is already being panned in the media and taking political attacks from the Trump team, he will continue to peddle his culture war extremism in the hopes of elevating to the highest office in the land.
- DeSantis hired a speechwriter named Nate Hochman, not a usual choice for the GOP candidate, but signals the direction of his politics. Hochman is not known within the Republican party but is fairly a rising star in the right-wing atmosphere. He worked with a known white supremacist Nick Fuentes in the past and praised him that he is “probably a better influence than Ben Shapiro on young men who might otherwise be conservative”.
- DeSantis dresses up his extreme views in the coded language of “parental rights.” For example his WOKE Act “prohibit educational institutions and businesses from teaching students and employees anything that would cause anyone to ‘feel guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress’ due to their race, color, sex or national origin” or even in when banning books on sex and gender education identity. Under DeSantis’ thumb, even books about Cuban music legend Celia Cruz and Afro-Puerto Rican legend and humanitarian Roberto Clemente have come under scrutiny.
- At the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), DeSantis’ deliberate decision to compare “wokeness” to a disease said “a lot of major institutions in our country have become infected with this woke virus.”
- Not only is his extremism hurting immigrants but other vulnerable communities like the LGBTQ and the fundamental American right to free speech. To prove his commitment to destroying “wokeness” which often attacks on trans rights, Critical Race Theory and sex/gender education, DeSantis’ administration banned trans athletes from playing women’s sports, censored sex and gender identity education through the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”, and denounced efforts to backtrack diversity and equity.