“Playing politics with people”: Biden officials reportedly considering legal options over DeSantis anti-immigrant stunt

White House officials reportedly discuss “lawsuits” in response to reports Florida governor Ron DeSantis allegedly lured dozens of South American migrants on charter flights to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a political campaign against immigrants. According to Axios, government officials discussed the matter Friday, the day after the White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the move as “illegal” and “cruel”. About 50 migrants had boarded two planes in San Antonio on Wednesday after they were falsely promised expedited work papers in Boston, NPR reports, sparking speculation that DeSantis may have violated federal or state human trafficking laws. (DeSantis claimed Friday that the move was overboard and that all migrants knowingly flew to the island — a claim that differs from some migrants’ accounts.)

President Joe Biden also condemned Republicans for “playing politics with people and using them as props,” in comments Thursday night at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala. “What they’re doing is just wrong. It’s un-American, it’s reckless and we have a process in place to manage migrants at the border,” he added. “We are working to ensure it is safe, orderly and humane. Republican officials should not interfere in that process by performing these political stunts.”

The Axios report noted that the government’s Friday meeting — reportedly with high-level White House members and a slew of cabinet secretaries — was scheduled before DeSantis’ plan unfolded. “This should not be about political stunts,” an unnamed government official told the outlet, expressing concern about the increase in border crossings. “It should be about how the entire government gets 8,500 meetings a day.”

DeSantis, a 2024 shadow candidate who reportedly notified GOP donors of the idea in advance, said the move was part of a deterrence strategy aimed at “dramatically” reducing the chances of migrants coming to Florida. However, the legality of the plan is now under heavy public scrutiny. In addition, according to The Washington Post, the $12 million state program that DeSantis used to pay for the flights may have been funded by interest income on federal COVID aid. The DeSantis office did not respond to the After‘s questions about the funding of the state program and whether the COVID relief rate has been used for the flights; a spokesperson said the program was conducted “in accordance with federal law”. (Florida lawmakers did approve budget language this year, allowing the governor to transport “unauthorized aliens out of this state,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.) The DeSantis office has declined to provide many details to the press.

The Martha’s Vineyard incident follows a month-long trend in which GOP governors, including: Greg Abbott from Texel, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and now DeSantis, have turned unsuspecting migrants into political pawns by moving them to Democrat-run cities, including Washington, DC, New York and Chicago. More than 100 migrants were dropped off just outside the vice president’s home on Thursday Kamala Harris after being taken by bus to Washington at the behest of Abbott.

The Biden administration has specifically objected that the 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 the local… [nongovernmental organizations] were warned about a plan to let migrants, including children, on the side of a busy DC street makes it clear that this is just a cruel, premeditated political stunt,” Jean-Pierre said.

On Fox News, DeSantis and Abbott have received an unsurprising chorus of praise. Host Brian Kilmeade described their strategy as a “genius” way to draw 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 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’. In the meantime, Sean Hannity seemingly projected his own fears onto the Massachusetts location, insist on that the “residents of Martha’s Vineyard are scaring more than 50 illegal immigrants.” In fact, many people on the island quickly came to the aid of the migrants by offering them food, legal aid, clothing and shelter at a local church, according to The New York Times.

On Friday, the Governor of Massachusetts 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 providing “shelter and humanitarian support.”

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