The 15 Cuban refugees whose makeshift boat accidentally landed on Florida’s largest nude beach on Labor Day were said to have been convenient ‘unauthorized aliens’ for Governor Ron DeSantis to place them on the two jets charters in which he had traveled to Martha’s Vineyard last week.
Had some of those 15 people been on board, DeSantis likely could have filled the two 30-seat Fairchild Dornier 328 jets among the other 100 Cuban refugees who arrived over the Labor Day weekend. And if DeSantis wanted to follow through on his threat to fly and transport more “unauthorized aliens” to “sanctuary states,” he could recruit from among the 1,300 who have arrived directly from Cuba in his state since last October. This number is up more than 600% from last year.
But Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez sparked political furor in August when she suggested on a radio show that Florida could transport newly arrived Cuban refugees from Florida to the home state of the President Joe Biden, Delaware.
So rather than displease Florida’s formidable Cuban-American community, DeSantis went to the trouble and expense of hiring a contractor to entice migrants to board his charter planes in San Antonio, Texas. And, lest the passengers include some of the record 176,000 Cubans who have arrived at the southern border by land over the past year, the contractor appears to have targeted only Venezuelans and a few Colombians.
But the entrepreneur had no problems, including seven children. The flights were paid for with $615,000 of a $12 million appropriation by the state legislature “for the operation of a program to facilitate the transportation of unauthorized aliens from this state, pursuant to federal law”. The money was taken from accrued interest on federal COVID relief funds. It turns out that interest is not subject to the same restrictions as real funds.
There remained the legislature’s requirement that the money be spent transporting “unauthorized aliens” from Florida. The immigrants on the planes were never in Florida except for the 45 minutes when DeSantis’ planes landed in Crestview on the way to Martha’s Vineyard. DeSantis demonstrated that he didn’t go to Harvard Law School for nothing. He argued that the people who boarded the planes in Texas intended to go to Florida eventually and would have ended up there.
The whole thing was a political stunt financed by a loophole and made possible by a lie. DeSantis made this even more shameful by ridiculing those outraged by this human trafficking, whether or not it meets the legal definition of human trafficking.
Refugees were found to have been lured by false promises of jobs and housing far from where they were most likely to find either. They also found themselves a long way from immigration courts where they would have to appear or face deportation.
Many residents of Martha’s Vineyard responded to the surprise arrival of refugees by offering food and shelter. The entire high school AP Spanish class volunteered to act as interpreters.
But DeSantis sought to portray the Islanders as a group of wealthy liberals who only cared about the poor and downtrodden as long as they kept their distance.
“Their signal of virtue is a fraud,he declared during a press conference.
An opposing voice of decency comes from Maikel Cervantes, a 41-year-old painter and handyman who happened to be strolling Haulover Beach on Labor Day. It was early enough in the morning that the people who make it Florida’s largest nude beach hadn’t started showing up. The refugees aboard a makeshift boat that reached the shore ahead of it were thus spared further culture shock.
“They came from eastern Cuba,” Cervantes later told The Daily Beast. “Thirteen men, two women. And they were pretty good for being 10 days on the sea. They were a little burnt, but they were fine.
Cervantes is a Cuban refugee himself, having lucked out in a visa lottery 22 years ago. He knows that conditions in Cuba have only gotten worse since then.
“There is little food to eat,” he said. “There is no transportation. And on top of all that, they had power outages all night,” he said. “It’s awful. And you can’t even express yourself. You can’t even complain.
Cervantes understands that the situation is at least as bad in Venezuela, which is ruled by a dictator whose like-minded predecessor called Fidel Castro “my brother”. And Cervantes has deep sympathy for anyone driven to make a desperate effort to reach America, whether they endure 10 days at sea or walk thousands of miles.
“They are risking their lives,” he said.
He believes that those who shun refugees – wherever they come from – are signaling a simple lack of decency.
“It’s a little cruel, you know,” he said. “It’s unhuman.”
From what he can tell, America has plenty of room and opportunity.
“There’s always a place here for everyone, you know?” he said.
The last time he saw any of the 15 people on the makeshift boat, they were being given water and some sort of food by a Miami-Dade Rescue Department unit that rolled onto the beach.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents then arrested them. A spokesperson for the agency told The Daily Beast on Monday that it was only able to report on their plight in general terms.
“All arriving migrants who disembark, regardless of nationality, are taken into U.S. Border Patrol custody, interviewed, and processed for deportation,” the spokesperson said.
What is certain is that DeSantis did not put any of these 15 on a charter bound for Martha’s Vineyard as part of a heartless lie in a loophole. DeSantis’ press office did not respond to questions about why there were no Cubans on board the two charter planes.
If there had been Cubans among the 48 migrants who walked on the tarmac at Martha’s Vineyard, it could have compromised the purpose of this particular form of human trafficking, which, according to vice signage, was not neither sex nor money, but simply power.