DeSantis Sending Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard Divides Venezuelan-Americans

DeSantis Sending Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard Divides Venezuelan-Americans

After Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent two planes of mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, advertising executive Max Lefeld called the move a political coup.

“It’s like me taking out my trash and driving to different areas where I live and throwing my trash there,” said Lefeld, a Venezuelan-American who is a founding member of the Casa Venezuela Dallas foundation, which helps recent refugees.

But in an Instagram post by Miami-based EVTV focused on Venezuelan news, a video of immigrants getting off the plane in Massachusetts mostly elicited support, with lots of clapping emojis.

The transfer of asylum seekers from the US border to Democratic states by DeSantis and Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, both Republicans, is intensifying debate among US Venezuelans and sharpening their divisions over the increased influx of people from their country.

The divisions largely run along political lines, with Venezuelan Republicans defending DeSantis and Democrats criticizing the move.

Patricia Andrade, who has helped newly arrived Venezuelans for more than seven years through her nonprofit Raíces Venezolanas in Miami, said she felt bad for the Venezuelans who were taken to Martha’s Vineyard, but added that DeSantis was trying to call attention to a problem that “the Biden administration does not want to take on”.

Andrade said many of the Venezuelans she helps with food and household items say they came with the understanding that the US government would provide them with food and housing.

“But what I’m seeing is that many of the Venezuelans who come end up on the streets,” she said.

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She said the latest wave of Venezuelans arriving in the US has polarized the community, with some believing that some of the migrants are “delinquents” and are coming to the US as an “adventure” rather than a planned move.

“If the US government is going to allow them in, they must screen them for criminal records and have the infrastructure to provide shelter and food,” she said.

‘An incredible split’

In Texas, Lefeld said his foundation’s Facebook page has comments from people saying they will not help Venezuelans from the Chavista party — referring to the late Venezuelan socialist president Hugo Chávez — or that the latest newcomers were part of the current government. left of the president. Nicolas Maduro.

“My line of criticism to my countrymen here is that it’s people who did it, just like them, but they’re walking and they don’t have luggage and we fly,” said Lefeld, founder of advertising firm Co.Jones. . “People kind of forget how they got here.”

“There is an incredible divide that has permeated the divide that we see in American politics,” he said.

José Antonio Colina is a former lieutenant in the Venezuelan army who now leads Veppex, an organization of Venezuelan exiles in Miami.

Hill does not support what DeSantis did, which “is not consistent with what DeSantis has expressed in the past”. He called it a “political coup”.

But, he said that prior to DeSantis’ actions, his organization, as well as other groups, expressed concern to the Department of Homeland Security that among those released in the US were former members of Maduro’s paramilitary group and former force officials. policeman. as well as individuals who had been released from prison.

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“It’s dangerous for those seeking political asylum and it’s a danger to US national security,” Colina said.

He said that the Venezuelan community is “confused” and that “the real problem is that there is a massive migration of Venezuelans across the border and DHS is not able to control it or deal with it properly.”

Since 2014, more than 6.8 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled to other countries, causing one of the largest refugee crises in the world. In recent months, migration has increased dramatically after slowing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The South American country was once one of the most prosperous in Latin America, with the largest oil reserves in the world. Many Venezuelans used to travel to the US for vacations and shopping.

Everything changed after the late President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999. Poor planning under his socialist government caused the economy to deteriorate. Under his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the economy went into freefall, causing shortages of food and medicine, while violence and crime flourished.

With pandemic lockdowns, migration has slowed as travel has become more difficult and economic opportunities have dried up. The government of Venezuela has made reforms to decelerate the economic crisis. Venezuelans began returning to their homeland at the height of the pandemic, but the trend has since reversed.

Venezuelan migrants often cross the dangerous Darien Gap on the Colombia-Panama border and then head north through Central America.

After applying for asylum and being released, many head to Florida, home to the largest Venezuelan community in the US.

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Former President Donald Trump courted Venezuelan American voters with his “anti-communism” message throughout his four years in office. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials made several trips to Florida to deliver political speeches that involved Venezuela and met with community leaders. A majority of Venezuelan voters voted for Trump and other Republicans in 2020.

DeSantis also did his share of outreach to Venezuelans and his anti-socialism messages resonated with them. Now, many Venezuelans are divided, with Republicans defending DeSantis’ decision to send Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard and Democrats condemning it.

‘Throwing them away’

Carla Montilla, a Venezuelan American graduate student in Washington, DC, criticized DeSantis, saying that he and other Florida politicians always talk about communist countries and say they are on the side of the people of those countries.

“These are empty political talking points,” said Montilla, who is originally from Doral, Florida, where many Venezuelan-Americans live. “These victims of communism are here now and they’re just throwing it away,” she said.

Montilla said he is a Democrat but has family members who are Republicans “who found this behavior disgusting”.

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