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If it were possible to separate out the political gamesmanship, secrecy and apparent false promises, the planeloads of migrants taken from Texas to Massachusetts and paid for by Florida could be viewed as a public service.
Instead, the planes are now the subject of a criminal investigation and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the new king of gotcha politics, was chuckling on Fox on Monday night, bragging about sending a message to cities that provide sanctuary to migrants and promising it would pay off for Republicans in November.
Too bad everyone can’t work together because by all accounts border authorities are overwhelmed and there are people at the border who need somewhere to go.
Shocking milestone: 2 million encounters
US authorities have recorded more than 2 million encounters with people trying to cross the southern border this fiscal year and more than 203,000 in August alone, new data from US Customs and Border Protection showed. Read CNN’s full report. Many encounters – 22% last month – are repeat attempts; the 2 million encounters represent fewer than 2 million migrants.
Many of those encountered at the border are still turned away under a pandemic-related health authority a federal judge won’t let the Biden administration end.
But tens of thousands of migrants seeking asylum on US soil can’t be returned to Mexico, which won’t accept migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Migrants from those three countries alone numbered 55,333 in August.
Looking for places to send tens of thousands of migrants
CNN’s chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller has talked to US and Mexican authorities and told me Mexican drug cartels are gouging migrants, charging exorbitant sums to get them across the border after harrowing treks from Central and South America.
Once in the US, the migrants that cannot be returned to Mexico face an uncertain future as aid organizations try to help connect them with family and contacts in the US while they await asylum proceedings.
When those organizations find enough migrants interested in going to New York, Chicago or Washington, DC, they call for a bus in Texas.
That’s a separate process than DeSantis’ decision to step in on behalf of Florida and transport migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
In need of a Marshall Plan for immigration
Miller told me in an ideal world, the US would have a sort of Marshall Plan to stop such mass migration at the source in Central and South American countries. In the US, mayors and governors would ideally be working together to distribute migrants.
“The politics in the United States right now are a little too brittle for government to think of each others’ interests,” he said.
The migrants can’t just stay in border towns, either. Read these reports from El Paso, where migrants are sleeping on the streets because shelters are full, according to the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Tribune.
Not coming to El Paso, coming to America
Rather than ask Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for help, El Paso’s Democratic Mayor Oscar Leeser is using emergency funds to facilitate his own buses to New York City, where many migrants are headed.
“The people are not coming to El Paso, they’re coming to America,” Leeser said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “And we look at them and we talk to them and say, ‘Where do you want to go and what’s your destination?’ And then we will take them and help them get to their destination.”
Arriving in the US without a place to go
The big change, he said, is that unlike in the past, people are showing up, in particular from Venezuela, without money and without a place to go.
“We have about 50 percent of the people today that do not have a sponsor, they don’t have money,” Leeser said. “So we’re helping and working to get them to where they want to go.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Monday he has been in communication with Leeser but has not found cooperation from Abbott.
While New York will provide sanctuary, he said the city is getting overwhelmed, according to CNN’s report.
“We are not telling anyone that New York can accommodate every migrant in the city,” the mayor said Monday. “We’re not encouraging people to send eight, nine buses a day. That is not what we’re doing. We’re saying that as a sanctuary city with right to shelter, we’re going to fulfill that obligation. That’s what we’re doing.”
A criminal investigation into Martha’s Vineyard flights
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, an elected Democrat, said Monday the migrants shuttled by Florida from Texas to Massachusetts appear to have been “lured” with false promises of work before being sent to Martha’s Vineyard last week.
It’s not clear what law the operation might have violated, but Bexar said his office is looking into it and criticized using people as political pawns with “false pretenses.”
DeSantis, meanwhile, said Monday night that the migrants on planes signed releases and were given a map of Martha’s Vineyard before being left there.
“It was clearly voluntary and all the other nonsense you’re hearing is just not true,” he said on Fox.
President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware was preparing for possible migrant arrivals after reports of another unannounced flight from Texas. Read more.
CNN’s Ed Lavandera went to the street corners in San Antonio where the migrants were approached and was told those offers are still being made.
Julian Cyr, a state senator in Massachusetts who represents Cape Cod, said on CNN Tuesday that the migrants sent to Massachusetts have all been given lawyers and are being housed at a local military base.
He said it’s impossible to argue the migrants agreed to go to Martha’s Vineyard since they apparently didn’t know where they were going and no authorities in Massachusetts were warned.
“This wasn’t about having non-border communities pitch in in this effort,” Cyr said. “This wasn’t about helping vulnerable families seek a better life. This is about using human beings as part of a political stunt. And that is just inhumane and it is shameful.”
What we’re doing isn’t working
Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, argued there has been too much focus on restricting immigration and closing borders.
“We have over the last 30 years as a country, tried it the Republican way, and we’ve shrunken legal pathways,” Escobar said on CNN Tuesday. “When you shrink or eliminate legal pathways you’re going to see more irregular migration,” she said.
She wants Congress to authorize more processing stations for asylum seekers, including in countries outside the US, to make it easier and more seamless for migrants to enter the country.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez notes that it’s not clear exactly how the Biden administration will proceed. She writes:
Administration officials conceded in a call with reporters Monday that the increase in migration is a challenge. Asked whether the administration is considering moving migrants into the interior, an official cited ongoing discussion about how to improve processing along the border.
“One solution that we know is not a good solution is for hostile governors to be busing or flying migrants – often misleading them – to places where they had no intention of going with no coordination whatsoever,” the official said.
Now a front burner issue
Appearing on Fox, DeSantis claimed credit for bringing immigration to the top of voters’ minds just before the election.
“Immigration and the border, I think, is now … a front burner issue,” he told Fox’s Sean Hannity. “And I think this is one where Republicans have the advantage, without question. So run on it. And then if we do get majorities in the Congress, Sean, they need to do something with that power to hold Biden accountable on this issue.”
DeSantis is probably right on part of this point. Republicans in recent history have reliably used immigration as a wedge issue heading into elections, most notably in 2010, when they won control of the House of Representatives, and 2016, when Donald Trump won the White House.
In a recent NBC News poll of registered voters, the Republican Party has a massive 36-point advantage over Democrats on “dealing with border security,” and a smaller but still significant 17-point advantage on “dealing with immigration.”
Perceptions of migrants matter
While asylum seekers being bused or flown by Texas, Arizona and Florida are in the country legally as they await hearings in the judicial system, it’s not at all clear that your average US voter necessarily views them that way.
The asylum seekers from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua often cross the border without documentation and then declare themselves to border agents before being released to await a hearing, a process that takes years.
The perception is hugely consequential. If they perceive immigration as legal, 44% of registered voters surveyed in a New York Times/Siena poll released this month agree with Democrats on the issue, while another 44% said they side with Republicans.
But when it comes to illegal immigration, a majority of registered voters, 51%, agree with Republicans compared to 37% who agree with Democrats. Republicans hold a similar edge on the economy, the other issue on which they’re focusing.