Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put his own spin on a popular tactic of Republican presidential hopefuls this week when he sent flights of migrants to Massachusetts. While the governors of Texas and Arizona have bused migrants to New York and Washington, D.C., DeSantis chartered two private planes to scoop up people, most of whom had made their way to the U.S. from Venezuela, all the way in Texas (well outside his own jurisdiction) to drop them off on the liberal island of Martha’s Vineyard. Although they were told they would be given job opportunities and aid at their destination, their arrival was a surprise to residents and officials.
At a news conference on Thursday, DeSantis was quick to claim credit and appeared to bask in saying Florida is “not a sanctuary state” and that the “burden” of immigration “shouldn’t just fall to a handful of red states.”
This approach to immigration has been a mainstay of the far right in recent years, and none have championed it more fervently than Donald Trump and his loyal followers. But for all the rhetoric of looking to our past to Make America Great Again, and the reverence bestowed on Ronald Reagan as the Republican archetype, today's Republican leaders are quick to memory-hole the fact that Reagan was the architect of our current immigration system.
In his immigration policies and statements, Reagan led with the dignity of human life, followed by a practical recognition of the significant economic benefits of renewing the labor force from abroad. For today’s Republican governors, migrants are simply pawns in a greater game of scoring points against the libs. For Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona, fixing the immigration system comes second — the cruelty is the point.
If you needed any more evidence that Republican leaders have broken with the compassionate conservative ethos of the GOP of yore, look no further than President Ronald Reagan’s final speech in 1989: “If ever we closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world,” said the 40th president.
Increasing immigration and making stronger immigration systems were bookends for the Reagan administration, which started with a Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy. Reagan not only made a case for taking in more refugees but also said undocumented people in the United States “should be recognized and accorded legal status” because “considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force.”
The system Reagan launched in 1986 gave legal status to nearly 2.7 million undocumented people. But it wasn’t designed to accommodate the challenge of 6,000 to 7,000 people arriving daily at the southern border and a backlog of nearly 1.6 million cases. The system requires updating and new rules, leading to calls for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But we don’t need to wait for a legislative overhaul to fix the problem of masses at the border. There are a number of changes we can start with:
Authorize more immigration judges and translators to hear the remaining cases. This was a key recommendation of Sen. John McCain. Rather than keep migrants in custody for up to 15 months pending a hearing, get the staff needed to determine whether or not the person should stay legally or be deported.
Actually deport people. Congress currently has enough money allotted to remove 400,000 people. The maximum deportations ever reached was under President Barack Obama, around 270,000, according to Allen Orr, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Set a statute of limitations. Every other area of law has a limit on how long someone can be kept in holding without seeing a judge. If the government is not going to hear the case or deport people, then the government should not be allowed to hold people in limbo indefinitely.
Increase the number of temporary work visas for migrant farmers. American agriculture depends on migrant labor and countries south of the border rely on remittance income. Authorize a greater number of visas and allow for workers to return home during the off season. Take the economic and political win in rural America.
Be better to children. What do we actually gain by holding minors in custody indefinitely? Current estimates are that 60% of people in removal proceedings are minors. Grant the children humanitarian relief rather than holding them up until they appear in front of a judge alone.
All these solutions would go toward establishing an orderly process of dealing with human beings seeking an answer on whether they will be allowed into the U.S. legally, or not. The expertise and resources exist to implement these policies. Busing or flying people to remote locations is the exact opposite of fixing the immigration problem. The actions of these governors are rooted in the belief that migrants from south of the border are bad for the country and asylum laws should not exist. Rather than carry the torch forward from Reagan, these governors and other Republicans with aspirations for higher office would rather use people to create chaos.
The resulting narrative of sticking it to the libs in Martha’s Vineyard is a short-term political win for the politicians looking to best Trump by appealing to Republican primary voters. But these actions will remain ingrained in the minds of general election voters as “a partisan move that doesn’t speak to one United States,” according to Orr.
“It doesn’t solve for immigration, it doesn’t deter more migration and it puts people in harm. And because it costs taxpayers to do this, we are paying for the cruelty.”