Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez faces backlash over comments about Cuban migrants

MIAMI – South Florida Democrats on Monday lashed out at Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, who faced backlash over the weekend for appearing to suggest on a radio show that Cubans who were in Florida “illegally ” they should be kicked out of the state.

During a news conference, Latino Democrats in Miami criticized Nunez and the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis for advancing immigration policies that they said hurt Cubans fleeing a communist regime.

Criticism of Nuñez, a Cuban-American raised in Miami, was personal: Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who is also Cuban-American and chairs the Florida Democratic Party, asked Nuñez to distance himself from the rhetoric of DeSantis on immigrants.

“I’ve known Lt. Gov. Nuñez for decades. This is not the Jeanette Nuñez I knew,” said Diaz, who said Nuñez had become an “instrument” in DeSantis’ re-election campaign. “It is clear that he does not care about anyone but himself and his political aspirations and agenda. But Lieutenant Governor, you should know better. Or have you become so driven by power now that you’ve left your heart, your compassion, and your principles at the door?

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The press conference at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, just a day before Florida’s primary election, extended the life of a controversy ignited by remarks Nunez made during a radio interview last week. Nuñez’s response to a question about Cuban migrants, in which he explained DeSantis’ official proposal to bus undocumented migrants out of Florida, has drawn criticism from Democrats, immigration advocates and some Cuban-Americans across the political spectrum .

The backlash prompted Nuñez to personally respond to the controversy in an appearance Monday morning on Americano Media, a new national radio outlet aimed at conservative Hispanics, saying his initial comments had been intentionally distorted by Democrats. He later posted a statement on Twitter with roughly the same response.

“We know that there is a process to ask for asylum for people, including Cubans, who come here for political reasons, not for economic reasons,” Nunez told the Spanish-language radio show. “I think they’re trying to use him … to bring some enthusiasm to the Democratic Party, which doesn’t exist in the Hispanic community.”

Rhetoric or immigration law?

Clarifying her controversial comments on Monday, Nuñez made a distinction between being a “political” refugee and immigrants who come to the country for “economic” reasons.

For decades, Cubans received special immigration treatment in the US through the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy. But now, Cubans are prosecuted once they enter the country at a port of entry, just like other migrants, according to Miami immigration attorney Maureen Porras.

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The main difference now is that Cubans are eligible for additional forms of relief from deportation thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, a law that allowed some eligible Cubans, especially those on immigration parole, only apply for legal permanent residence, said Porras. But even then, Porras said the process through which Cubans receive parole status is being litigated.

READ MORE: Florida Lt. Gov. Said ‘Illegal’ Cuban Migrants Will Be Sent To Delaware?

These dynamics were on full display last summer when DeSantis held a news conference in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, to announce that Florida had sent 50 law enforcement officials to help secure the US-Mexico border. . That same day, about two hours after the governor’s press conference, three Cubans were arrested by a group of Texas law enforcement agents after illegally crossing the Rio Grande into the United States.

After they were taken into custody, state agents began the process of turning them over to US Customs and Border Patrol. It is unclear whether they were deported or granted asylum or refugee status.

The DeSantis administration has previously been forced to grapple with the ideological rifts that exist within South Florida’s powerful Cuban community, as well as the historical treatment of Cubans compared to other migrant groups. In February, the governor came under fire for a policy ordering the state to stop licensing Florida shelters that served unaccompanied migrant minors in federal custody.

Among them are Mons. Bryan Walsh Children’s Village in Miami. The shelter served unaccompanied Cuban minors who arrived in Miami in the early 1960s through Operation Pedro Pan. While some former Pedro Pan kids came to DeSantis’ defense at a public panel in Miami, others took issue with his opposition, writing a letter and holding press conferences calling on DeSantis to reverse the policy.

Nunez rejected criticism of Friday’s statements in his statement on Twitter“Entering the country illegally and fleeing a dictatorship to seek asylum are two different things, and misrepresenting that is offensive.”

Florida slows to implement bus program

Nuñez’s comments have renewed attention on a controversial immigration program that DeSantis has pledged to implement but has yet to implement.

At the governor’s request, the Florida Department of Transportation has access to $12 million to contract with private transportation companies to transport undocumented immigrants out of state. But the program has not yet been launched.

Texas has had a similar program since April. For months, the state has been offering migrants free rides to Washington, DC and New York as Gov. Greg Abott, who is also running for re-election, takes aim at Democrats’ immigration policies.

The Texas bus program is voluntary for migrants who can show documentation that they have been processed and issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and the state pays for travel expenses. according to the Texas Tribune.

It’s unclear whether Florida’s program would work the same way. DeSantis has been tight-lipped about the details, though he repeatedly boasts about his plans in press conferences, late night Fox News interviews and conservative political events.

“If you send them to Delaware or Martha’s Vineyard or some of those places, that border would be secure the next day,” DeSantis said in December. Delaware is the home state of President Joe Biden, while Martha’s Vineyard is an island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, popular for summer vacations and accessible only by plane or ferry.

For now, the state transportation department says only that “all aspects of the program will be consistent with federal law.”

The state agency has not clarified whether the program will be voluntary for migrants, as it is in Texas. It is also unclear whether the state is in contact with private companies that may be interested in contracting with the state to move migrants to other parts of the country.

Florida Sen. Annette Taddeo, who is running for Congress and is on the ballot in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, said Monday that when the program was first released, it was not made clear where the migrants would be taken and how they would avoid interfering with federal immigration enforcement officials.

“DeSantis and the Republican Party profess to be on the side of those fleeing communism and socialism. Yet they continually turn their backs on those fleeing total repression in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” Taddeo said.

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