Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said what she said, without nuance or full knowledge, and set off a pre-Election Day tempest that, after three days, still is kicking up a lot of dust, that even Gov. DeSantis took steps to tamp down.
This is what happens when the DeSantis administration, using immigration as a political cudgel, meets the United States’ crazy quilt of immigration policies.
Nuñez hit the Spanish-language radio airwaves last week. The topic centered on the DeSantis administration’s threat to bus illegal immigrants in Florida to President Biden’s home state of Delaware — a political statement, as well as a political stunt.
In response to a question from a host on 1040 AM Actualidad Radio, Nuñez, citing her boss, suggested those illegals could include Cubans now fleeing the island by land and sea in record numbers.
“He’s [DeSantis] going to send them, very frankly, to the state of Delaware, the state of the president,” Nuñez said, the Miami Herald reported. “Those numbers that have come through the border from Cuba, you can be completely sure that where they want to arrive, the final place where they want to go is Florida.”
Democrats pounced, seeking to mine political gold from what Nuñez — a Cuban American from Miami — declared: That newly arrived Cubans would be sent packing to another state. This, while DeSantis administration and previous Republican governors have assiduously courted Miami’s established Cuban communities to keep them loyal voters.
Monday, Nuñez issued a statement on Twitter, to either clarify or downplay what she said.
“On the eve of an election, the Democrats are once again resorting to ginning up their operatives and media partners by deceiving voters and uselessly pandering to the Hispanic community,” Nuñez wrote. Basically, she deflected.
Tuesday, DeSantis came to the rescue, implying that his busing plans are off the table for now. He credited Texas’ own busing initiative. “I think because of what Texas has done, I actually think that’s taken a lot of pressure off us,” DeSantis said to the media in Tallahassee.
Nuñez stepped in — or slipped on — the delicate issue of Cuban migration, which is at the very least complicated and nuanced, even for Cubans in Miami-Dade. Indeed, the Cuban community here, both exile and U.S. born is not monolithic in their views on immigration.
Neither the Democrats nor Republicans seemed to account for that. Indeed, while many DeSantis-supporting exiles appeared to remain mum in the face of Nuñez’s initial statement, other Cuban Americans were appalled. Often, historic Cuban exiles in Miami-Dade, the ones who fled a communist island and a dictator years ago, do not support unbridled, illegal immigration into the United States — not even from Cuba. They would not necessarily find Nuñez’s “law and order at the border” stance offensive, ironic or even a blunder. After all, they are Republicans and Cuban like she is.
However, many Cubans who arrived here in more recent years have relatives on the island trying to join them. They are more likely to favor open-door immigration for Cubans at the border and reject migrant busing plans.
In the past, Cubans entered the United States, if they made it to dry land, through the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, which President Obama ended toward the end of his administration. Now, like other migrants, they are processed once they arrive in this country through a port of entry. Still, some Cubans are eligible to apply for legal permanent residence under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.
Nuñez also fell into the fraught arena that throws a harsher light on whether all immigrants trying to enter the United States are created equal. Clearly, they are not, something Nuñez emphasized in her statement on Monday: “Entering the country illegally and fleeing a dictatorship to seek asylum are two different things and misrepresenting that is offensive,” Nuñez backpedaled, implying, belatedly, that she did not mean to include Cubans in her original statement.
Actually, what is offensive is any attempt to draw a clear, bright line between people who are suffering. If one cannot eat because a dictatorship is using food as a weapon vs. not being able to eat because, say, drought, floods and poverty make food impossible to secure, what’s truly the difference?
Chalk this last one up to the broader failure of this country to even begin to discuss a cogent immigration policy that is tough but fair, cohesive and humane. For, when it comes to undocumented migrants, we have a scatter-shot free-for-all leaving vulnerable people open to exploitation and, as the DeSantis administration flaunts, political performance. That, too, is offensive.