The governors of Florida and Texas seem to be vying for the title of who can be the cruelest to immigrants, some faith leaders say.
Whether motivated by their 2022 re-election campaigns or a desire to gain a VP nod from Donald Trump in 2024, both men have gone out of their way to depict immigrants as invaders whose existence presents a threat to the residents of their states. And it seems intended to send the wrong message about migrants, said Carlos Malave, president of the new Latino Christian National Network.
“Their rhetoric is presenting a distorted image of migrants, and they are using the weapons of fear and misinformation as a political strategy,” Malave said. “They are using the rhetoric that has been used and maximized by President Trump to make points on other political issues.”
Claiming the state is undergoing an invasion, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared Texas will build its own border wall and ordered the revocation of licenses of facilities that house child migrants.
“In July, angered by federal government policies and a sharp rise in border crossings this year, Abbott ordered state police to arrest on state criminal charges and jail migrants suspected of having crossed the border illegally, most often for the misdemeanor offense of trespassing on private property. Since then, more than 1,000 men have been arrested and jailed, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety,” the Texas Tribune reported Oct. 1. A state judge recently ordered the prisoners be released.
“Not to be outdone in the race to the nativist bottom, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) is moving forward with his own efforts to vilify immigrants,” Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum, commented online about the apparent competition between the two governors.
DeSantis had just ordered state agencies not to assist the federal government in the relocation of immigrants, directed that Florida companies be audited to ensure employees are working legally and pushed police to stop vehicles believed to be transporting undocumented migrants, according to Politico.
“DeSantis’ actions were paired with a new lawsuit filed by Attorney General Ashley Moody against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as well as other top Biden immigration officials that contends federal authorities are flouting immigration laws and that Florida is harmed when detained migrants are released and told to appear at immigration proceedings at a later date — a policy that critics call ‘catch and release,’” Politico reported, adding an example of the governor’s anti-immigrant public statements.
“‘If you look at what’s happening at the Southern border, it is a total disaster,’ said DeSantis, who announced his actions at a press conference held in Fort Myers. ‘This is absolutely a crisis … We are the ones who are affected by this, and we have to fight back.’”
Tampa, located on Florida’s westernmost border, is 1,300 miles from Matamoros, the easternmost city on the Texas-Mexico border. Florida shares no border with Mexico.
It’s hard not to see political motivations behind the two governors’ depictions of immigrants, said Marv Knox, founder of Texas-based Fellowship Southwest.
“Whether they want to be Trump’s VP or not, to me it feels like they are certainly running for something,” Knox said. “It definitely feels like they are appealing to Trump’s base.”
That may explain why Abbot has taken a hard stance against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Texas, despite polling supporting such measures. In Florida, DeSantis has taken a similar approach to vaccines.
“It seems these two governors have made decisions that are not in the best interest of the residents of their state,” Knox added. “I’m sure each would say they are just doing the right thing, but from the outside looking in, it looks callous.”
It’s also frightening to some in the Hispanic community when immigrants are depicted as public enemies, Malave said. “For the most part, there is an affinity and an identification among Latinos with new immigrants.”
Migrants living in pockets around the country are fearful in this climate, he added. “They do live in fear because they are a minority in a primarily white community, and they know they are being targeted.”
The anti-immigrant vitriol espoused by DeSantis, Abbott and other politicians also masks the truth about migrants, Malave said.
“Most immigrants in our country are contributing to the economy of our country and to the cultural enhancement of our country. Everybody knows that. But certain politicians don’t like to share those facts but want to share misinformation to stay in power,” he said. “We need to help white Americans see the economic and cultural contributions of those immigrants who are already here.”
But that is a task made all the more difficult by the layer of racism that infuses the topic of immigration in the U.S., Malave said.
“Most of the immigrants coming to the border now are not white. They are Guatemalan, Haitians, Africans. So, there is a very strong reason why these immigrants are not welcome.”
Closed minds are behind the open border myth, and immigrants are not the source of COVID either | Analysis by Todd Thomason
‘The meanness of this moment’ in America (and its churches) | Opinion by Bill Leonard