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Gainesville Provides Open Arms for Immigrants in an Otherwise Closed-off State

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Governor Ron DeSantis shipped immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard using federal funds, but his actions don’t speak for all government officials across the state. Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe took the opposite stance. 

DeSantis has always been a proud supporter of strict immigration policy and has never shield away from letting it show through various, borderline politically motivated, legislative acts and fiery comments. The conservative republican opposed former President Obama’s policies, especially Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), later going as far as to sign an “anti-sanctuary city” bill in June 2019, despite the complete lack of existence in his own state. 

The governor promised the Cuban and Venezuelan communities in Miami Sept. 7 that new immigrants from either country would not be sent out of the state. Eight days later, he oversaw the flying of at least 50 Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard, an island seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts only accessible by an hour-long, $20 ferry trip. 

He used $12 million of interest earned on American Rescue Plan funds, money designed for pandemic relief and aid. DeSantis said these funds were “designed basically to bail out the poorly governed states.” However, these funds were allocated in the state’s 2022-2023 budget to implement “a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.”   

Thing is, the migrants DeSantis relocated reportedly came from San Antonio, Texas, not the Sunshine State, and had turned themselves into border authorities, likely to pursue the legal asylum process.

DeSantis is currently under investigation by Sheriff Javier Salazar of Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, who said it was “clear that many of the migrants had been misled and lured away from Texas to score political points.” 

He is also being sued by many of the migrants. According to Oren Sellstrom, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit, the families said they were told to sign a document not fully translated into Spanish in exchange for a $10 McDonald’s gift card and or were lured by a brochure that said they would have plenty of food and housing, education and employment opportunities.

The governor immediately defended his actions, paying no mind to his promise made to his constituents a week earlier or the claims made by lawyers. Instead, he insisted on making the message clear that Florida is not a sanctuary state in his media appearances. 

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe took exception to that.

 In a Tweet responding to the Tampa Bay Times’ article about DeSantis’ actions, Poe told the governor to bring the “families fleeing violence” and the $12 million used to fund the program to Gainesville, where they will be welcomed with open arms. 

Immigrants constituted 11.3% of Gainesville’s total population as of 2019, which is 14,800 people, according to a report from the New American Economy Research. Immigrant households earned $317.7 million with $76 million contributing to federal, state and local taxes. 

They also made up 13.2% of the employed labor force and 23.7% of its STEM workers in professions like doctors, accountants, web developers and engineers. It is estimated that immigrants living in the city helped create or preserve 700 manufacturing jobs that would have vanished or moved elsewhere by 2019. 

In late March, Gainesville leaders outlined a plan to build a better community for immigrants, funded by two grant awards in 2020 from Gateways for Growth. It was the first city in Florida to launch such an initiative. 

Mori Hosseini, chair of the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees, published an opinion piece in the Tampa Bay Times celebrating the institution’s “life-changing” opportunities for first-generation and low-income students. While it does not discuss immigrants on campus directly, it does put forth the notion that this top-five institution is willing and able to accommodate students physically and financially in these types of situations. 

This event is one of many around the country, as seen in Texas with Governor Greg Abbott’s effort to “curb border crossings.” The Texas Tribune reported that the fellow republican sent buses full of migrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ D.C. residence only a week after DeSantis sent planes full of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

This is a developing story, with real human and legal implications, and there is no precedent to predict the next steps. 

Only time will tell if Gainesville lives up to its potential and whether DeSantis allows that progression to happen. What is clear, however, is that civil rights, the stipulations and who deserves these rights in the eyes of the law is being challenged. This places an even larger spotlight on the immigration crisis and debate in the United States, which is home to 50.6 million immigrants, the highest number in the world.

Marinna Stopa is currently in her second year at the University of Florida studying journalism with minors in geography and statistics and a certificate in data analytics. She could talk about topics ranging from the downfall of One Direction to the Tampa Bay Lightning for hours on end. When she isn't hunched over her computer typing away, she loves to read pieces of investigative journalism, scroll through Twitter or rearrange her room. She hopes to one day work in a space that allows her to combine her interests in data, sports, and writing and, hopefully, make these fields more accessible to women just like her.
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