Immigration is the last thing this is about.

Edgartown Police Chief Bruce R. McNamee helps Venezuelan migrants onto a bus at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Sept. 16 in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha’s Vineyard. Flown to the island from Texas on Sept. 14 and then sheltered in the church for two days, the migrants were being transferred to a military base on Cape Cod. Matias J. Ocner/The Miami Herald via TNS

If conservatives really wanted to fix immigration, they could have done so years ago. Certainly, the broad outlines of a workable overhaul have long been obvious: a combination of hardened border security, a guest-worker program, streamlining the process for immigration and creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here illegally.

In fact, President Bush offered a plan roughly along those lines back in 2006. “I know this is an emotional debate,” he pleaded to his fellow Republicans. “But one thing we cannot lose sight of is that we’re talking about human beings – decent human beings that need to be treated with respect.”

Republican senators were unmoved, and the plan died in Congress. As for treating immigrants with respect, the Republican Party has made it a point of pride to do the opposite, from caging them like animals to taking their children away. Now comes last week’s chicanery from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. On his orders, 48 immigrants – most, if not all, from Venezuela; most, if not all, seeking asylum – were approached in San Antonio, Texas, by a woman they say duped them into boarding two chartered planes with promises of being flown to where they would find jobs and immigration assistance.

They were instead taken to Martha’s Vineyard, where they wound up wandering about with child-appropriate maps they had been issued in Texas. This was DeSantis’ take on a stunt lately favored by the Republican governors of Arizona and Texas. They’d been putting migrants on buses, but he upped the ante by chartering planes at a cost to taxpayers of $615,000, or $12,812 per person. At this writing, a commercial flight from San Antonio to the Vineyard is $329. Just so you know.

And mind you, Florida has no international land border. But apparently, this stunt was too tempting for DeSantis to allow a little geography to get in his way. He reached halfway across the country to, in effect, kidnap dozens of people in what his office calls a “relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities.” In Republican circles, this is apparently what passes for wit.


You’d need a malignant sense of humor to find any of this funny, so it was likely a real knee-slapper for its intended audience of perpetually aggrieved white conservatives. They are the reason DeSantis gave the stunt as an exclusive to Fox “News.” They are also why the Vineyard – tony summer playground of wealthy liberals – was chosen and no official there was given a heads up that the flights were coming.

Confused immigrants descend on unprepared beach town. Hilarity ensues.

Never mind that DeSantis victimized vulnerable people. Or that immigration lawyers say his stunt could complicate their asylum claims. Again, this is not about immigration. It’s about cruelty as political stratagem. After all, if you solve a problem, you can no longer exploit it. But leave it unsolved and you can use it to rub raw the emotions of your target audience – e.g., white people terrified at the browning of America – and stampede them to the polls.

Few things could be of greater interest to DeSantis, whose presidential lust is an open secret. Sure enough, he received a standing ovation from the party faithful in Kansas a few days later. It was a vivid snapshot of the moral imbecility and rottenness of character that now define the Republican Party. They should be ashamed of themselves, but they won’t be.

They lost the capacity for that a long time ago.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He may be contacted at:

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.