Photo illustration by John Lyman



Dear DeSantis and Abbott: Stop Mistreating Victims of Socialism.

My uncle and his family fled Syria in 2012 as one of the many families who sought safe haven in the United States. Many of the Venezuelans fleeing the oppressive regime of Nicolás Maduro are seeking the same thing he was — safe harbor in a nation opposed to authoritarian oppression.

Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, both likely presidential candidates, have each made bold claims about their stance against socialism, but if they want to maintain their credibility, they are going to have to adjust their response to immigrants fleeing authoritarian socialist oppression. You can’t fight an ideology if you don’t help the people suffering from it. Spending millions of tax dollars to bus and fly Venezuelan refugees to Martha’s Vineyard directly opposes the governors’ proclaimed ideals.

The Republican governors’ elaborate political stunt last week was supposed to highlight the hypocrisy of sanctuary states and follows months of efforts by both Abbott and DeSantis to ship migrants and refugees out of their respective states to destinations like Chicago, New York City, and Washington. As of early August, the state of Texas has paid over $12 million to the charter service used to transport migrants, while the state of Florida has pre-allocated $12 million for the same cause.

While Abbott and DeSantis waste tax dollars to punish their colleagues across the aisle, the real recipients of this performative cruelty are Venezuelans who have fled the authoritarian regime of Nicolás Maduro. By using victims seeking refuge from socialist regimes as mere political pawns, the so-called anti-socialists expose their hypocrisy.

Protests in Venezuela
Protests in Venezuela against Nicolás Maduro’s regime in 2019.

Since Nicolás Maduro’s rise to power in 2013, Venezuela’s refugee crisis has grown to rival that of Syria’s — a country facing one of the bloodiest wars of the 21st century. Some of Venezuela’s poorest compose the recent waves of refugees reaching the United States, many of whom did not have the economic means to flee the country during the mid-2010s. Most end up in South Florida and Texas, where one would presume that the so-called anti-socialist leaders of those states would be happy to provide refuge to those fleeing an ideology they so ardently oppose.

Referring to the Venezuelan asylum-seekers as “illegal immigrants,” DeSantis minimized the plight of Venezuelans seeking refuge from one of the world’s most oppressive dictatorships. This rhetoric is all too familiar to me, as scores of Syrians fleeing the Assad regime to the U.S. and Europe — including my own family members — faced similar anti-refugee backlash during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis.

DeSantis has been an outspoken opponent of Maduro, calling the Venezuelan authoritarian a “communist,” a “murderous tyrant,” and urging the U.S. not to “line Maduro’s pockets.” When it comes to the victims of this murderous tyrant, however, DeSantis seems uninterested in extending an open hand to refugees fleeing arbitrary arrest, torture, and state-sanctioned death squads.

Through his and Abbott’s decision to ship away Venezuelan refugees, DeSantis has removed his mask of performative opposition to the Maduro regime. Greg Abbott — who has repeatedly accused Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic opponent, of being a socialist — seems somehow comfortable dismissing the needs of victims of the man whom his friend DeSantis has called a “communist” and a “murderous tyrant.”

Ultimately, Abbott and DeSantis’ efforts to promote their anti-immigrant and anti-refugee agenda through their Martha’s Vineyard stunt failed miserably. Locals embraced the refugees and provided around-the-clock support ranging from food, shelter, and even high-school Spanish students serving as basic translators, before Republican Governor Charlie Baker called in the National Guard to provide humanitarian assistance. In an effort to expose the so-called hypocrisy of sanctuary states, Abbott and DeSantis accomplished the opposite. Their callousness towards asylum-seekers undercuts their supposed anti-socialist agenda, exposing their principles as nothing but empty words.

If DeSantis and Abbott really want to oppose socialism, they should start by cutting the wasteful government spending they’ve been dedicating to the transport of migrants and refugees to other states. Instead of performative political stunts to promote their anti-immigrant and anti-refugee agenda, they could instead use their national influence to encourage the Biden administration to heighten economic and political pressure against the Maduro regime, the root of the Venezuelan refugee crisis.

Until then, DeSantis and Abbott have no credence to call themselves opponents of socialism.