Chest-thumping, headline-seeking demagogues have a certain weakness. Since they prefer engaging in rash political stunts instead of carefully considered policy moves, their efforts often implode after an initial success. When you shoot from the hip with a blindfold on, you may cause some damage. However, as Ron DeSantis is learning, your ill-conceived efforts are also likely to backfire.
DeSantis thought he was being clever when he quietly arranged to have 49 mostly Venezuelan migrants flown last month from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on the Florida taxpayer’s dime. The funding came from a $12 million appropriation to Florida’s Department of Transportation that was intended “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.” As of August, those funds remained unused because the large groups of migrants DeSantis feared never materialized, according to reporting from The New York Times.
The stated intent of Florida’s appropriation be damned, DeSantis then looked beyond his state to Texas, prompting Democratic lawmakers to file a lawsuit and the Florida Center for Government Accountability to claim “a misuse of state funds.” In his fervor to put on a lame political show, DeSantis arranged to get the migrants on a plane for Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses.
With the help of attorneys, the migrants promptly sued the DeSantis administration, accusing them of taking part in a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme,” having falsely promised them “work opportunities, schooling for the children and immigration assistance” in Martha’s Vineyard. In Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar opened a criminal investigation into the matter.
On Thursday, Salazar announced that, as a result of his investigation, he has certified that the migrants were the victims of a crime. This means that they are now eligible for a special “U visa” that would allow them to stay in the United States. U visas are given to crime victims and witnesses to ensure they are present to aid criminal investigations.
Salazar’s certification is a key step in the U-visa process, which often takes over a year, according to a report from GBH News. However, Salazar acted in less than a month. If approved, the migrants will earn the right to stay in the United States for up to four years and later apply for permanent residency.
As the migrants await U-visa approval, they shouldn’t have to worry about deportation, thanks to another DeSantis miscalculation. By sending the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, which is within the jurisdiction of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, DeSantis selected a place with a precedent of protecting migrants from deportation while their applications are pending, according to another GBH News report.
DeSantis now faces a class-action lawsuit as well as a federal investigation into whether he misused COVID-19 relief funds to pay for the flights. Although DeSantis may have scored a few political points with a certain crowd, his xenophobic shenanigans backfired, ultimately helping the migrants with their efforts to stay in the United States while exposing himself to well-deserved legal liability.