Several Republican governors have been rounding up migrants and asylum seekers, families in many cases, most if not all in the country legally as they await immigration proceedings, and shipping them by bus and plane to “liberal” cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, DC. This state-sponsored internal displacement, intended to embarrass the Biden administration and inflame the Republican base, is racist, repugnant, and potentially criminal.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fraudulently enticed close to 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers sheltering in San Antonio to board planes after being promised housing, employment and money. Many were told they would be going to Boston, and instead, after boarding two planes, were dumped at night on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, without advance notice to any local officials.
DeSantis and these other GOP Governors, including Texas’ Greg Abbott and Arizona’s Doug Ducey, didn’t invent this charade. During the Civil Rights era, Southern white segregationists launched the Reverse Freedom Rides, bussing African Americans north. That racist campaign failed. This new iteration, no less nakedly racist, might succeed, if the public fails to hold accountable DeSantis, Abbott, Ducey and any other shameless governors who join in.
The Reverse Freedom Rides of 1962 were launched in response to the Freedom Rides, when activists rode buses into the Deep South to challenge the segregation of interstate bussing still being enforced there. The Freedom Riders were met with hostility, violence and jail from white Southerners, but their efforts achieved significant attention and genuine gains. The Reverse Freedom Rides displaced an estimated 200-300 African Americans, busing and stranding them in northern cities, as well as on Cape Cod. “We didn’t really have anything. We just had our clothing,” Betty Williams told the Boston public media outlet GBH in a documentary about being bussed north as a child in 1962.
“60 years ago, 1962, the White Citizens’ Council was an organization in the South and viewed themselves as more moderate than the Ku Klux Klan, but basically was also a white supremacist organization,” Professor Mwalim Peters of the University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth explained on the Democracy Now! news hour. Peters is both African American and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, an indigenous nation native to Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. “In efforts to humiliate Northern liberals, particularly the Kennedy family, this was a stunt pulled where they put impoverished people — from Arkansas, Mississippi, the Carolinas and Georgia — on buses and sent them directly to Main Street in Hyannis and told them that the Kennedys would be there to welcome them — basically, identical to what’s happening now on Martha’s Vineyard, where they were promised all sorts of things…the target was to humiliate the Kennedys, the NAACP and the Urban League.”
The Kennedy family had (and still has) a compound in Hyannis, hence the targeting of that small Cape Cod city in 1962. Today, Martha’s Vineyard, just off the Cape Cod coast and accessed by passenger ferry from Hyannis, is a summer vacation destination for many prominent Democrats, including former presidents Clinton and Obama. Governor Ron DeSantis knows this well, having attended Yale University in Connecticut and then Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Governor DeSantis may regret boasting that he organized the flights from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, whose jurisdiction includes San Antonio, has launched a criminal investigation into the flights.
“As we understand it, 48 migrants were lured — and I will use the word ‘lured’ — under false pretenses into staying at a hotel for a couple of days,” the sheriff said at a news conference on Monday. “They were shuttled to an airplane, where they were flown to Florida and then eventually flown to Martha’s Vineyard, again, under false pretenses”
Several of the lured migrants, along with Alianza Americas, a network of migrant-led organizations, have filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis. The lawsuit offers shocking, first-hand accounts of the deception. Several Democratic lawmakers, from members of Congress to California Governor Gavin Newsom, are calling on the Justice Department to investigate possible crimes, ranging from misuse of COVID relief funds to human trafficking, kidnapping and racketeering. The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins, told the press, “We are looking into that case and will be speaking with members of the Department of Justice.”
Using people fleeing desperate situations as political props and exacerbating their distress is cruel and dehumanizing. It was wrong in 1962 during the Reverse Freedom Rides, and it is wrong now. Governors DeSantis, Abbott and Ducey must be held accountable and those seeking safe haven in this country must be protected.
This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!