If you think former President Trump’s decision to separate young children from their undocumented parents at the border was an act of cruelty, you should see what his likely top competitor for the Republican primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is doing in the state. It’s not only inhumane, but economically insane.
DeSantis, expected to announce his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in the coming days, running to Trump’s right on immigration, abortion, guns and other issues. He knows that people who tend to vote in primaries are those with the most extreme views and is catering to them.
But of all issues on DeSantis’ agenda, I wouldn’t be surprised if immigration will be his top priority. With U.S. unemployment at only 3.4% — its lowest in more than 60 years — inflation starting to come down and the Biden administration getting high marks for having united the Western world against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Republicans have few substantive issues to run on.
In light of scant public support for their Jurassic stands on abortion, gun safety and gay rights, the two Republican frontrunners are increasingly placing their hopes on creating a mass hysteria about an alleged “invasion” of illegal immigrants.
In reality, despite a recent surge, immigrants — both legal and undocumented — amount to about 13.7% of the U.S. population, below the 14.8% they represented more than a century ago, according to the non-partisan Pew Research Center.
In addition, as I wrote recently the United States badly needs more, not fewer, immigrants for demographic and economic reasons. The U.S. population is aging rapidly, and the country will soon not have enough young workers to pay taxes needed to support Social Security payments for retirees.
On May 10, DeSantis signed what he proudly called “the strongest anti-illegal immigration law in the country.”
The state law, which goes into effect on July 1, requires, among other things, that Florida hospitals that accept Medicaid ask patients about their immigration status and report their data to state authorities. Doctors say many undocumented patients will be afraid to go to healthcare centers for fear of deportation, at great risk for their health.
The law also stipulates that relatives or friends who take undocumented immigrants to a hospital, school or anywhere else can be charged as human smugglers. It also forces employers with 25 or more employees to use the E-Verify electronic system to check the immigration status of all workers.
Yesica Ramirez, a community organizer with the Farmworker Association of Florida, told me that if the law is implemented, “there will be a massive exodus“ of undocumented immigrants to other states.
The Republicans’ demagoguery against illegal immigration is also threatening to cause havoc in Florida’s construction, restaurant, hotel and agriculture industries, which rely heavily on undocumented workers.
According to Florida Chamber of Commerce data, there are only 61 unemployed people in Florida for every 100 open jobs in the state.
“There’s a huge need for workers in the state,” Samuel Vilchez Santiago, the Florida state director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, told me. “If many migrants leave, companies will pay the cost, and consumers will end up paying more for our food, housing and almost everything else.”
DeSantis’ extreme-right agenda already pushed Disney to announce on May 18 that it will scrap a nearly $1 billion investment in an office complex in Florida, and move it to California. Disney and DeSantis had been fighting over the governor’s so-called “Don’t say gay” law that restricts teaching sexual issues and gender identity in schools.
Trump, who fueled the anti-immigration frenzy when he falsely claimed against all evidence in 2016 that most Mexican migrants are criminals and rapists, will most likely try to match, if not surpass, DeSantis’ anti-immigrant crusade. Both are competing for the same voters within the Republican Party’s thinly veiled racist wing.
And neither Trump nor DeSantis will be able to make a credible argument that they are only opposed to “illegal” immigration. Neither of them has supported or presented viable alternatives to the Democrats’ calls for comprehensive immigration reform that would both secure the border and allow a much-needed increase in legal immigration.
Both Trump and DeSantis are spreading lies about undocumented immigrants for political gain. The funny thing is, their competition of who’s the most cruel against Latin American migrants may ultimately help re-elect President Biden.
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