MIAMI — Florida’s Cuban-American Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R) made quite the stir in recent days by detailing in a segment on Spanish radio Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to bus migrants arriving in the Sunshine State to Delaware.
While on 1040 AM Actualidad Radio, the host asked Nuñez about the Cubans who are seeking refuge in the United States through the southern U.S. border, a large number of whom later end up in South Florida due to their connections to the diaspora community. Nuñez answered with shocking insensitivity and cruelty: “He’s [DeSantis] going to send them, very frankly, to the state of Delaware, the state of the president.”
While this was treated as some sort of gaffe by Nuñez, the reality is that she was merely regurgitating the official goals outlined by the DeSantis administration. During this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee, DeSantis rammed through Senate Bill 1808, an anti-immigrant proposal that bars companies who transported migrants who were under asylum process into Florida, including unaccompanied minors. Preceding that was an executive order that strips licenses from nonprofit shelters that care and seeks to reunite minors with family members.
These anti-immigrant policies weren’t enough for DeSantis, who has been on a race to the gutter with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to see who is more xenophobic. After Texas started busing migrants who arrived through the southern border to Washington D.C. in April, and then to New York City beginning in August, the DeSantis administration decided to try and replicate this idiotic and performative stunt.
The Florida legislature allocated $12 million in the state budget at the behest of DeSantis to contract with private transportation companies to bus people to other parts of the country, specifically Delaware, a state which DeSantis has fixated upon as President Joe Biden’s home state.
While the Florida Department of Transportation said that they would be able to “enter into contracts with private entities” to begin this busing program as soon as the state budget was signed, the program has yet to start. Inquiries regarding the status of the program have not provided any more clarity, with the state agency saying that there is no “information on implementation at this time.”
Soon after Nuñez’ comments regarding busing Cuban and other migrants to Delaware, DeSantis seemed to uncharacteristically backtrack from his little performative stunt, saying that Texas’ program had relieved pressure from Florida as fewer migrants were coming to the state. While DeSantis provided no data to back his claim, it seems Florida’s busing program is on standby for the time being.
I have been told by sources close to the DeSantis administration that he is very sensitive to criticism on Spanish media, as DeSantis aggressively courts Latino voters, particularly Cuban Americans. His anti-immigrant policies during the legislative session have already provoked the wrath of certain sectors of South Florida’s Cuban-American community, who are outraged at his attacks on shelters that took care of unaccompanied minors from the island during the outset of the Cuban Revolution.
Nuñez has faced a firestorm herself, including from a recent press conference in Miami held by Florida Democrats and immigration advocates. And DeSantis’ own spokesperson and chief propagandist, Christina Pushaw, ignited a controversy earlier this year when she called Miami’s Archbishop Thomas Wenski a liar after he criticized DeSantis for his attacks against unaccompanied minors.
The pressure may be getting to DeSantis as prospects for Democrats in the midterms seem to have improved since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. The busing of migrants was always nothing more than a taxpayer-funded stunt meant as red meat to the most extremist elements of the Republican base, who DeSantis is obsessed with pandering to as he weighs a possible presidential run in 2024.
It’s unfortunate that it’s real people who are fleeing violence, political repression, and poverty who suffer the brunt of such political games.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member from Florida. Twitter: @tomaskenn