Florida governor criticized for using immigrant kids as political weapon

Miami, Feb 10 (EFE).- Business, religious and civil rights leaders on Thursday demanded that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stop using immigrant children as a “political weapon” and suspend his executive order designed to close shelters housing undocumented kids who arrive in this country without parents or guardians.

Miami’s Catholic archbishop, Thomas Wenski, was very harsh with DeSantis and said that his attempt to close the shelters who take in unaccompanied migrant minors is a “new low” in the Republican governor’s political career.

The Catholic leader’s criticism came in addition to that from businessman Mike Fernandez, a longtime significant donor to the political campaigns of conservative candidates, who told EFE that migrant minors who are arriving in the US now do not stop being “children” and should not be used as pawns in political disputes.

Wensky reserved special vehemence for his criticism of what he called the governor’s “political theater” last Monday when he met at Miami’s American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora with several Cubans who participated in Operation Pedro Pan, whereby thousands of Cuban kids arrived in this country in the early 1960s, sent here by their parents to prevent their indoctrination by the Fidel Castro regime.

The archbishop said that the Monday meeting proved that the governor has a “powerful (political) machine” in Miami but that DeSantis’s “bullying of kids, I think, … showed weakness.”

The criticism arose after DeSantis signed an executive order eliminating state funding for any agencies, including Catholic charities, that provide services to unaccompanied undocumented migrant kids.

All this is part of a political battle stirred up by DeSantis against the administration of President Joe Biden and his immigration policy with an eye on the 2022 mid-term elections, in which the Florida governor hopes to be reelected.

Although the constitutionality of DeSantis’s action is being appealed in court, Florida state lawmakers are debating bills SB1808 and HB1355, which would prohibit state and local government contracts with businesses that provide transport to unaccompanied minors.

Wenski lamented the fact that the governor said that any comparison between Operation Pedro Pan – which took in Cuban kids – and the aid to minors arriving these days in the US, most of them Central Americans, is “disgusting.”

“This is a new low. Children are children, and no child should be deemed disgusting, especially by a public servant,” said Wenski.

Fernandez said that “The actions being proposed, the law being implemented is cruel, and those promoting it should be embarrassed by this crusade which they have totally embraced.”

He went on to say that it is “shameful” for the Republican governor to use the children who came under Pedro Pan as a political weapon and merely shows the “level” to which he will sink to “win an election” by pandering to and seeking the votes of people who feel “hatred” toward immigrants.

Along with Fernandez, the former president of Miami Dade College, Eduardo Padron, who also arrived from Cuba as a boy via Operation Pedro Pan, had harsh words for DeSantis, calling on him to exercise “common sense” and “humanity.”

“Common sense and our sense of humanity must prevail at this time. The current policies being considered in Tallahassee today are ill-advised and thoroughly misguided. This should never happen in America. It is our moral duty to protect these children. They have already endured enough suffering. Let’s not allow these children to be used as a political football. Let’s stop playing politics with immigrant children,” Padron said.

The controversy erupted recently after several groups sent a letter to DeSantis in which they called for an end to these policies and after an op-ed signed by the archbishop titled “Why is the governor going after children?” in which he criticized DeSantis’s stance and actions and compared the unaccompanied minors to those who arrived via Operation Pedro Pan.

EFE abm/ar/jrh/bp

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