San Antonio sheriff investigates Florida governor’s migrant flight political stunt

Javier Salazar holds Ron DeSantis accountable for flights to Martha’s Vineyard

Roughly 50 immigrants, primarily Venezuelan migrants, were flown out of the San Antonio airport to Martha’s Vineyard, a popular Massachusetts summer destination, on Sept. 14. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took credit for the event the next day. This move by the Republican governor comes after the actions of Greg Abbott, fellow Republican governor, who recently bussed thousands of migrants to Democratic sanctuary cities, including New York and Washington D.C.

Javier Salazar, Bexar County sheriff, swiftly took action four days after DeSantis took credit for the flights. Salazar launched a criminal investigation regarding the situation as a whole. He believes those who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard were taken advantage of.

“What infuriates me the most about this case is that here we have 48 people that are already on hard times, right? They are here legally in our country at that point; they have every right to be where they are. And I believe that they were preyed upon. Somebody came from out of state, preyed upon these people, lured them with promises of a better life, which is what they were absolutely looking for,” Salazar said in a virtual press conference.

Those taken to Martha’s Vineyard have been able to benefit from various resources the local citizens have provided to them. Some have even seen their relocation as an unintentionally beneficial accident, as their northeastern location now provides them with opportunities currently unavailable to immigrants in more crowded cities closer to the border.

These events have left an impression on individuals in San Antonio and Martha’s Vineyard respectively. John Burke, political science professor at Trinity, characterized the stunt as disconcerting due to the logistics involved.

“It was a little bit embarrassing in Bexar County that DeSantis was able to pull this off. And you just have to wonder if Abbott must’ve known about it,” Burke said.

Recent reports reveal that Abbott’s administration did know about the event. HuffPost reported that DeSantis’ public safety czar and his chief of staff communicated to each other that Abbott and his administration were aware of the situation. The texts exchanged between DeSantis’ officials said that there were “no worries here” when referring to the flights coming out of Texas borders.

However, others are still questioning DeSantis’ motives when it comes to the event as a whole. DeSantis’ utilization of Florida funds is surprising, seeing as he drew upon hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly immigrants who had no ties to his state. Per the New York Times, this money came from a twelve-million-dollar program “for transporting unauthorized migrants out of Florida.”

Salazar’s efforts to take action have now resulted in his working with various legal experts in order for criminal prosecutions to be established. Massachusetts attorneys in particular are being brought on to help the immigrants apply for “U visas,” a special type of visa for victims of crimes who may be able to assist lawyers and officials in the investigation of criminal activities.

If the criminal probing demanded by the Bexar County police is successful, the future political aspirations of DeSantis are likely to be damaged. Seen as a potential candidate for the role of the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, the Florida governor would certainly have to recoup if a criminal charge comes out of this political stunt. David Crockett, political science chair and professor at Trinity, explained that at this point, every move politicians make can be based on the looming midterm elections.

“We’re going to be hip-deep into ramping up for the nomination race for president two years from now, so clearly someone who wants to be president … is also trying to raise his profile nationwide. [DeSantis is] hoping to sort of pose himself as the alt-Trump, if Trump doesn’t run, or maybe an alternative if he wants to try to take on Trump. He can do ‘Trump, without all the baggage,’” Crockett said.

The actions taken by DeSantis are indicative of the contrasting views of Democrats and Republicans regarding the topic of immigration. As the two dominant political parties present opposing views, Republicans are aiming to share their perspectives with the Democrats in an unconventional way.

Burke explained that this stems from a clash of ideas that pits local governments against state or even national governments. Current issues concerning immigration are unlikely to be solved soon.

“[This event] does point to the need for comprehensive immigration reform and there’s no will in Congress right now to compromise. Certainly, nothing is going to happen until after the midterms, if anything happens at all, because they want to see what the outcome is of the election, and then maybe next year they’ll revisit the issue,” Burke said.

Others hold more hopeful views on the potential for change. Ana San Roman Alvarez, Trinity sophomore and international studies major, was greatly saddened by the news of the situation. Empathizing with the migrants involved, she said she hopes that the U.S. approach to immigration is changed soon.

“People may realize how dire the immigration system in the U.S. has gotten, as they have been disregarding people’s human rights for decades now. … Even though we are located in the heart of it here in San Antonio, we go to school in a bubble of privilege and safety, so I hope people are looking outside of themselves for the next election. … I’m depending on my peers to educate themselves,” Alvarez said.