Compassion without borders: Governor DeSantis’ bold migration initiative

Graffiti/shadow on a brickwall showing a refugee girl walking with her suitcase

OPINION – Governor Ron DeSantis’ visit to Sacramento last month highlighted the flights of migrants to Sacramento his Administration organized. DeSantis’ initiative is a compassionate one, to the migrants, to local communities in states that are the focal points of migrant influx, and to future immigrants who can benefit from enhanced legal immigration.

Governor DeSantis gave migrants the opportunity to share the benefits of living in California, the Golden State, which has a more elaborate social services network than Florida. So does Massachusetts and its chic Martha’s Vineyard where he also sent migrants. His initiative is consistent with efforts by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who sent migrants who crossed the border illegally to Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. In 1985 Sacramento became sanctuary city. Doesn’t it seem hypocritical to say non-sanctuary states should not be able to send migrants to sanctuary? Why deprive migrants of the advantages of living in California?

We should also take a sympathetic view of the impact of illegal immigration on initial host communities which bear the brunt of the economic costs of supporting these would be migrants. A reason governors of border states facilitate or promote movement of migrants to liberal states is to illustrate such impact. They hope Congressional representatives from receiving states will see the effect, and then seek a change in our current policies on illegal immigration.

The Biden Administration gives lip service to the solving illegal immigration, while dumping thousands of migrants in a small number of states which are now helping a small portion of those migrants travel to greener pastures. Where is the compassion for the impact of illegal immigration on the citizens and budgets of Florida, Texas, and Arizona?

There are no easy solutions. We must explore innovative ideas that address the needs of migrants and host communities. Governor DeSantis and his colleagues implemented a groundbreaking approach to burden sharing.

The reality of American politics is that a greater proportion of the Congressional representatives from Florida, Texas and Arizona support tighter policies on illegal migration than do those from California and Massachusetts. Perhaps if Governor DeSantis and others help more illegal migrants come to liberal states, the official in such states will have more empathy with places such as Florida and minds will be opened to compromise immigration legislation.

Governor DeSantis gave migrants the opportunity to share the benefits of living in California, the Golden State, which has a more elaborate social services network than Florida.

We should show great compassion for genuine asylum seekers. As an official at the State Department in the Office of Refugee Affairs, I helped implement and support America’s obligations under the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention. It requires protection for those outside their home country with a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, . . . social group or political opinion.” We used this authority to help those persecuted by Communist regimes such as Jews feeling from the Soviet Union, Cubans escaping the Castro regime, and Vietnamese who were brutally treated for helping us in the war.

President Trump had it right with his “Remain in Mexico” policy.  Such a policy can protect genuine asylum seekers from persecution at home, the goal of the Convention. That is why the U.S. has run refugee camps around the world.

But Trump’s policy did not encourage illegal economic migrants to cross the border.  And his wall helped make such migration harder.

California is a state of immigrants, individuals and families who are proud to have come legally.  If we facilitate illegal migration, or force a small number of states to bear most of the burden for taking care of migrants, it undermines support for legal immigration, the protection of genuine asylum seekers and the chances for compromise legislation with respect to legal immigration. Such legislation could, for example, expand the H-1B visas program which is so important to our nation’s technology industry.

Governor Ron DeSantis’ initiative to relocate illegal migrants to Sacramento and Martha’s Vineyard represents a compassionate, pragmatic, and innovative approach to addressing immigration challenges. President Trump’s initiatives to stop illegal immigration such as Remain in Mexico and the border fence, if continued, can provide the political space for more legal immigration and greater protection for asylum seekers.

If California takes a welcoming and encouraging approach to migrant flights from other state, Californians will demonstrate their spirit of solidarity and inclusivity with migrants, while cities such as Sacramento, Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, DC will benefit from the economic, cultural, and social contributions of migrants. We should commend and support Governor DeSantis for his efforts.

Edward Hearst is a Northern California based government affairs attorney, and formerly served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Treasury for International Affair (acting), senior official at the Departments State and Commerce, and as counsel to the House Commerce Committee. 

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