Miami Herald

Gov. DeSantis using cruelty as basis for his anti-immigrant policy


Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Miami’s American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora and defended his plan to crack down on federally funded Florida shelters for unaccompan­ied minors.

He took his stand in front of some who were once unaccompan­ied minors themselves — Cubans who, more than 60 years ago, ended up in Miami shelters, camps and foster homes here and across the country through a rescue initiative called Operation Pedro Pan.

It’s unfortunat­e that he further sullied his defense by using language that, basically, divided these groups into worthy immigrants and unworthy immigrants.

“To equate what is going on in the Southern border … to Operation Pedro Pan is actually, disgusting,” DeSantis said.

A dehumanizi­ng and, likely, deliberate use of the word.

Monday, sitting at a table surrounded by former Pedro

Pan participan­ts, DeSantis made a distinctio­n between them and current unaccompan­ied minors. Pedro Pan children were sent by their Cuban parents to the United States with visa waivers, a rescue effort to save them from Fidel Castro’s indoctrina­tion until their parents could also leave the island.


“They were not illegals,” the governor said, “they were refugees from communism.” Once here, they were placed in the care of the Catholic Church in Miami.

The governor is going after the Biden administra­tion’s immigratio­n policy that DeSantis says allows minors and hundreds of thousands of others to enter the country illegally. DeSantis refuses to renew the shelters’ state licenses, forcing them to close their doors.

“We should not be incentiviz­ing illegal immigratio­n for coyotes and cartels,” he said, speaking at the Cuban Diaspora museum on Coral Way.


He’s right, we shouldn’t. But this is a federal problem that needs a federal solution. On Tuesday, for example, U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Miami, held a press conference to unveil her Dignity Act, “a historic top-to-bottom immigratio­n reform bill,” as the news release describes it.

The federally funded shelters affected have been getting the run-around since December; one shelter suddenly lost its state license and had to relocate 60 children with little notice. Others have sued to stay open. There are now 16 licensed shelters in Florida, several in South Florida.

A group of Miami Democratic businesspe­ople, immigratio­n

activists, shelter owners — and even Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski — have asked DeSantis to let the shelters be. Some say that today’s shelters for unaccompan­ied minors resemble those from the 1960s used to house 14,000 Cuban children who took part in Operation Pedro Pan.

But in a letter to the editor published today, Carmen Valdivia, head of the Operation Pedro

Pan Group and a Pedro Pan herself, disagrees:

“No one is more aware of the vulnerabil­ity of children than a former unaccompan­ied child and no one feels more for the plight of present-day unaccompan­ied children than we do. For this reason, we find that facilitati­ng the dangerous trips that these children take in the hands of unscrupulo­us coyotes is unconscion­able.”

There were 41 other signatorie­s to the letter.


However, there is dissension among the ranks of the Pedro Pans. Aida Levitan, for instance, president of The Levitan Group and a Pedro Pan says: “These anti-immigrant measures do not solve the immigratio­n influx generated by the tragedy of families who are facing impossible crises in their countries.

“Only immigratio­n reform and dealing effectivel­y with the root causes of immigratio­n will begin to solve these problems humanely and rationally.” Exactly.

This governor is simply using cruelty to pander to his supporters.

 ?? MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiheral­ ?? Maximo Alvarez, with Operation Pedro Pan, Inc., speaks during a roundtable discussion with the governor.
MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiheral­ Maximo Alvarez, with Operation Pedro Pan, Inc., speaks during a roundtable discussion with the governor.

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