White House officials are reportedly discussing “litigation options” in response to reports that Florida governor Ron DeSantis might have lured dozens of South American migrants onto chartered flights bound for Martha’s Vineyard as part of an anti-immigrant political action. According to Axios, administration officials discussed the matter Friday, the day after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the move as “illegal” and “cruel.” Roughly 50 migrants had boarded two planes Wednesday in San Antonio after being falsely promised expedited work papers in Boston, NPR reports, leading to speculation that DeSantis might have violated federal or state human trafficking laws. (DeSantis asserted Friday that the relocation was aboveboard and that all the migrants knowingly flew to the island—a claim that differs from the accounts of some migrants.)
President Joe Biden also condemned Republicans for “playing politics with human beings, using them as props,” in Thursday night remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala. “What they’re doing is simply wrong. It’s un-American, it’s reckless, and we have a process in place to manage migrants at the border,” he added. “We’re working to make sure it’s safe and orderly and humane. Republican officials should not interfere with that process by waging these political stunts.”
The Axios report noted that the administration’s Friday meeting—reportedly set to involve high-level members of the White House and a range of Cabinet secretaries —was scheduled before DeSantis’s plan unfolded. “This should not be about political stunts,” one unnamed administration official told the outlet, expressing concern about the uptick in border crossings. “It should be about how the whole of government gets the 8,500 encounters a day down.”
DeSantis, a 2024 shadow candidate who reportedly informed GOP donors of the idea in advance, said the move was part of a deterrence strategy aimed at “dramatically” lowering the odds of migrants coming to Florida. However, the legality of the plan is now under heavy public scrutiny. Additionally, according to The Washington Post, the $12 million state program that DeSantis used to pay for the flights might have been funded by interest earnings on federal COVID aid. DeSantis’s office did not respond to the Post’s questions regarding the state program’s funding and whether the COVID aid interest had been used for the flights; a spokesperson said the program had been executed “consistent with federal law.” (Florida lawmakers did approve budget language this year allowing the governor to “transport unauthorized aliens from this state,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.) DeSantis’s office has declined to offer many details to the press.
The Martha’s Vineyard incident follows a monthslong trend in which GOP governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and now DeSantis, have turned unsuspecting migrants into political pawns by offloading them to Democrat-led cities, including Washington, DC, New York, and Chicago. On Thursday, more than 100 migrants were dropped off just outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris after being bused to Washington at the behest of Abbott.
The Biden administration has taken specific issue with the fact that authorities who planned the action chose to notify the media of the group’s arrival in DC, but left local and federal officials in the dark. “The fact that Fox News and not the Department of Homeland Security, the city, or local [nongovernmental organizations] were alerted about a plan to leave migrants, including children, on the side of a busy DC street makes clear that this is just a cruel, premeditated political stunt,” said Jean-Pierre.
On Fox News, DeSantis and Abbott have been met with an unsurprising chorus of praise. Host Brian Kilmeade described their strategy as a “genius” way to bring attention to “these illegals” on Friday, adding that the previous day had been “epic.” During a Thursday segment of his top-rated cable show, Tucker Carlson launched a particularly racist diatribe, saying that he hoped the residents of Martha’s Vineyard could experience the “gift of illegal immigration,” before describing South American migrants as “armed robbers and subway rapists.” Meanwhile, Sean Hannity seemingly projected his own fears onto the Massachusetts locale, insisting that the “residents of Martha’s Vineyard are freaking out over 50 illegal immigrants.” In fact, many people on the island quickly came to the migrants’ aid, offering them food, legal assistance, clothing, and shelter in a local church, according to The New York Times.
On Friday, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker announced that the migrants would be sent to a joint base in Cape Cod, where members of the Massachusetts National Guard would assist in the effort to provide them with “shelter and humanitarian support.”