Let's Get to the Root: Looking Beyond DeSantis's Immorality

Garrett Heffern ’24 (Opinions Editor, 143rd Board) in Opinions | September 30, 2022

On September 14, some 50 migrants exited two charter jets and stepped onto Martha’s Vineyard—a Massachusetts island renowned for its wealthy and politically well-connected residents, including the Obama family and Bill Murray. The man behind these flights was Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida and a strong proponent of the story that his flights sought to jar sheltered Northern states to the reality of the American border crisis. Yet DeSantis’ story does not include the reality of what he has done: abandon 50 people—whom he promised shelter, jobs, and safe transportation to a northern city—unannounced on an island in the Atlantic. 50 people, who were promised shelter, jobs, and transportation to a Northern city, were abandoned, unannounced, on an island. He left 50 people to wander around, sleep in churches and the roadsides, and only receive proper aid 44 hours after their arrival. In short, DeSantis’ actions in themselves were  utterly immoral and cannot be justified. But our warranted outrage over his actions should not blind us to the truth that the United States is indeed struggling to take in and provide for an increasing number of migrants.

The truth is, America’s border situation has deteriorated even further in recent years. An unprecedented number of migrants are attempting to cross the Mexican border; the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) has reported over 2 million encounters with migrants crossing the border into the US during the 2022 fiscal year, which is an astounding increase from the mere 404,000 encounters in fiscal 2018. Now, courts—the vast majority of them located in the South—are arriving at the point where they cannot process the sheer number of immigrants applying for asylum. According to the Migration Policy Institute, over a million1,000,000 asylum cases were pending at the end of just 2021—a number that does not include the future influx of migrants in 2022. . One of the 50 migrants who landed on Martha’s Vineyard contacted the CBP in Brownsville, Texas, which subsequently handed him a court date in Philadelphia. His hearing was 41 days away, and he had no resources whatsoever to get to Pennsylvania. 

But the existence of administrative disasters with migrants is no secret. Yes, only 34% of Americans currently approve of the Biden Administration’s policies of immigration, but this border crisis is not just a domestic crisis—it is a calamity for the millions of migrants entering the United States. The immigrants of this decade—whether undocumented or not— enter the country impoverished, and the majority of them unfortunatley remain so. One example: Stilt.com notes that only 3.4 million undocumented immigrants (one third of the total number of undocumented immigrants) owned a home in 2014. A second:  25% of immigrants reside in California and 16% reside in Texas, but the large concentration of immigrants in those states means that there are too few shelters and affordable rental properties  for that influx of migrants in the South and West. 

Again, the issues above are not new. Yet the Biden Administration has still failed to solve them. July 27, 2021—more than a year ago—The White House released a blueprint on Biden’s immigration policies. Their plan included 100 new judges to alleviate court backlogs; such solutions did not significantly aid courts’ ability to process cases.  As the rest of the document primarily focuses on effective security and asylum case rulings, they prioritize the practicalities of border and legal recognition over the quality of migrants’ lives when they settle into the country. That leaves the task of addressing migrants’ livelihoods to states. So let’s revisit DeSantis’ flight fiasco. These flights were not the product of a governor’s mere whim, but an extensively coordinated and planned act. The day after the planes landed, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, announced the arrival of more than 100 immigrants in front of Vice President Harris’ residence in Washington D.C. Clearly, Florida and Texas sought to provoke—and were extremely successful. Although Texas has already bussed 10,000 immigrants temporarily residing within the state  to various Northeastern sanctuary cities in the past few months, their rising desperation—now a commonality in Southern states—has not been recognized by the federal government.

Of course, one cannot maroon people on an island and call it moral. But DeSantis’ goal was to send a message. After verbally opposing Biden’s immigration policies for months, the only way Southern states could truly garner recognition was through inter-state, jarring action. He utilized the stereotypes of  Martha’s Vineyard as a rich island removed from reality to antagonize the Northern states isolated from and ignorant of the chaos near the Southern border. On a more literal note, states such as Florida are ultimately attempting to diffuse immigrants throughout the country to elicit border reforms from the federal government. As a result, Northern sanctuary states now risk inheriting Florida’s and Texas’ immigrant crisis, and are likely to lobby the presidency for reform. Thus DeSantis’ flights were not humane in any respect, but they were effective in sparking necessary dialogue.

Diffusing immigrants throughout the country without comprehensive border reform, however, would only lead to even more border crises. Our mismanagement of the border situation can be best thought of as a leaky roof. To fix that roof, we need to either half the rain or fix the roof.  So, America can either end the reason people seek asylum in the United States by meddling in foreign affairs as they see fit—a very controversial, and perhaps not so wise— or we can reform our border to better manage the number of immigrants entering our country. 

We should not prevent immigrants from entering the country, but we must—for the sake of not only our current residents, but future migrants as well—admit them at a stable rate that we can handle. Biden’s border policies have attempted to promise better opportunities for migrants to gain asylum and enter the country. Although this promise is technically “moral,” the federal and state governments are simply not equipped to accept higher and higher numbers of migrants—let alone provide for them at the level that they deserve. We cannot let our moral pride replace true morality, a rational judgment of capacity and resources. Migrants deserve it.