Shipping Cuban migrants out of state betrays our values

By Alicia Pelaez

This story was originally published in South Florida Sun Sentinel on August 30, 2022.

I’m a Cuban Republican voter, yet I haven’t voted for a Republican in years. I just really can’t bring myself to do so anymore.

As a Cuban that came to this country in the 1960s as an unaccompanied minor under the Pedro Pan project, I’m disturbed by the authoritarian turn taken by my party and their cruelty in denying an opportunity to migrants like me who flee to this country seeking refuge from political repression and violence.

I was recently shocked to hear a fellow Cuban-American, Florida’s Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, endorse Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to bus Cuban migrants arriving in the Sunshine State to Delaware. When asked about our fellow Cubans who flee the communist dictatorship in our island through the southern U.S. border, Nuñez answered with shocking insensitivity and cruelty, “he’s [DeSantis] going to send them, very frankly, to the state of Delaware, the state of the president.”

That’s not the Jeanette Nuñez that I remember. That’s not the same person that as a member of the Florida House of Representatives sponsored a proposal that was ultimately signed into law granting undocumented students the same rates as Florida residents to attend a public university in Florida. The Jeanette Nuñez I remember didn’t shut the door behind her to other migrants who sought a better life and the American dream.

Unfortunately, Nuñez is willing to contradict everything she once stood for while stumping for DeSantis’ xenophobic agenda. It’s really sad to see a once respectable and independent member of the Florida Legislature debase herself in this manner. History will not be kind to her.

DeSantis’ anti-immigrant agenda has been clear since he took office. During his first year, he signed into law Senate Bill 168, a cruel proposal that mandated all Florida counties cooperate with federal immigration enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants for even minor offenses and traffic infractions. The bill also forced local county jails into establishing agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants for deportation purposes despite the federal government not reimbursing the cost to us, the taxpayers.

While that proposal was cruel and financially irresponsible, this year, the DeSantis administration really topped itself. DeSantis’ allies in the Florida Legislature rammed through Senate Bill 1808, an anti-immigrant proposal that barred companies that transported migrants, especially children, who seek asylum into Florida. Preceding that was an executive order seeking to strip licenses from nonprofit shelters that care and reunite these minors with family members.

I was one of those children once. I came to the United States under Operation Peter Pan, an exodus of over 14,000 Cuban children sent unaccompanied by their parents who were terrified about the increasingly authoritarian turn that Castro’s communist revolution was taking. Our families were afraid — a fear so deep that they sent away their children to an unknown land all alone. It was an experience shared by every wave of Cuban exile, from the Freedom Flights to Mariel and those who escaped by sea. Last summer, Florida’s elected leaders descended on Miami to show their support for the popular uprising that took place in Cuba on July 11. But when the cameras were gone, they were gone. And now, they would turn their back on the very people seeking asylum from political repression they claim to abhor.

I’ve always been proud of the diversity and vibrancy that immigrants bring to our community, wherever they are from. I feel repulsed that a fellow Cuban-American like Nuñez would betray our history by attacking all migrants, including Cubans. Adding insult to injury, the Florida legislature has allocated $12 million in the state budget from our tax dollars to contract private transportation companies that will bus migrants as part of DeSantis’ performative stunt for his MAGA base.

I’m still a registered Republican, and unfortunately for him, DeSantis has lost my vote forever. I will not allow him or his lieutenant governor to disrespect the legacy of our community and vilify children and families, who like us, were just seeking refuge.

Alicia Pelaez came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor in 1960. She currently resides in Miami.

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