Ron DeSantis Should Be Prosecuted for His Treatment of Immigrants

Stop calling it a “political stunt.” Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s use of vulnerable immigrants as props is disgusting and criminal.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Geneva, Florida, August 24, 2022. (Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

In recent months, Republican governors in Texas, Arizona, and Florida have been transporting undocumented immigrants northward to cities like New York, Washington, and Chicago. This included busing about a hundred people to the vice president’s residence and dumping them on the street.

Governor DeSantis took this despicable practice of using vulnerable men, women, and children as political props to a new low this week when he paid for two planeloads of Venezuelan migrants to be sent to Martha’s Vineyard. As has been reported, the Venezuelans that DeSantis paid to transport were actually recruited by a coconspirator in San Antonio, Texas, not in Florida. As reported, this coconspirator, “Perla,” promised the migrants transportation to Boston and expedited work permits. All of it was a lie.

Various news entities have described DeSantis as engaging in a “stunt.” That characterization is a troubling understatement of the gravity of DeSantis’ conduct.

The truth is that DeSantis — apparently unconcerned about the immorality of his actions — and those conspiring with him appear to have acted criminally under Texas law. Title 5, section 20 of the Texas Penal Code defines the crime of unlawful restraint. Under the statute, a person is restrained if their movement is restricted without their consent by, among other means, moving the person from one place to another. Restraint is without consent “if it is accompanied . . . by deception.” Under the statute, the violation is a Class A misdemeanor, unless the person restrained is under seventeen, in which case it is a felony. According to reporting, there were children among those criminally transported to Martha’s Vineyard.

That’s not to say that DeSantis and other Republican governors have not violated a host of other state or federal laws by deceptively transporting migrants across the country.

Some have called for US attorney general Merrick Garland to open an investigation. The attorney general should. Unfortunately, while describing DeSantis’s conduct as shameless, the White House refused to commit to a thorough investigation of the abduction of the Venezuelan migrants, the violation of their civil rights, and whether DeSantis, Texas governor Greg Abbott, and Arizona governor Doug Ducey acted unconstitutionally by interfering with the federal government’s authority to manage immigration.

The Texas state attorney with jurisdiction should also open an investigation and empanel a grand jury. The fact that DeSantis is the governor of a sister state is no defense for breaking the law in Texas. And while they are at it, they should investigate whether Governor Abbott engaged in any similar deceit or other illegal conduct. He is also not above the law. The same is true for state attorneys in other affected states.

And where are the Republicans who only recently were asking that Venezuelan migrants in the United States have their temporary protected status extended? The hypocritical silence of figures like Marco Rubio is deafening.

Finally, for all the Democrats who are so afraid of the immigration issue, this is not about whether one supports or opposes this or that immigration policy. Like Donald Trump’s family separation policy, this issue runs much deeper. It’s about inhumane and illegal conduct toward vulnerable people that is an affront to the values of every decent human being.

Progressives owe the country — which endured four years of lawlessness under Trump — to tell the truth about Ron DeSantis — an aspirant to the highest office in the land. He has demonstrated that, like Trump, he is willing to break the law to achieve political power.

What DeSantis did is not a political “stunt.” It’s a clear warning that, as president, he, like his Republican predecessor, would view the rule of law as a principle that is expendable when political expediency calls. And it’s a crime. He should be prosecuted for it.