A Sadistic Immigration Stunt

Even border-security hawks should be horrified.

Ron DeSantis speaking
Ron DeSantis speaking during a primary election night event in Florida on August 23, 2022 (Chandan Khanna / AFP / Getty)

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Ron DeSantis’s hideous political stunt is a reminder that the GOP’s policies are no longer about achieving results, but gratifying the basest impulses of MAGA voters.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.


Intention Matters

I am from Massachusetts, yet I have never been to Martha’s Vineyard. I now live in coastal Rhode Island, less than a hundred miles from the Vineyard, so Ron DeSantis’s idiotic and cruel attempt to dump human beings on the island during the off-season is something of a local story for me—but one that carries an important national lesson.

The Florida governor’s cartoonish assumption, apparently, was that liberal Bay Staters are just as racist as the Republican MAGA-base voters he’s trying to woo, and that they would prove it by reacting with outrage when a bunch of Latin Americans showed up on their doorstep. (He even sent a videographer, in the hopes of capturing the Vineyarders getting the vapors.) This bizarre miscalculation probably won’t help DeSantis much. As the journalist Josh Marshall said this morning, in politics, “weird can sometimes be worse than wrong.” In any case, the show was a fizzle: The locals provided the migrants with food and shelter, and sent students from an AP Spanish class at the local high school as translators.

I’m proud of my fellow New Englanders for their reaction to DeSantis’s inane showboating. And yet, I consider myself an immigration hawk. I am the grandson of immigrants on both sides of my family, and I cherish and celebrate immigration—but I also believe in law and order. I was a young conservative working in Washington, and I winced when Ronald Reagan signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, the amnesty of 1986 that was supposed to solve much of our immigration problem. I gritted my teeth during the Obama administration, when what seemed to me to be another amnesty loomed.

(I am also one of those people who finds the term “undocumented immigrant” Orwellian nonsense. It is a phrase meant to command empathy by implying that a person who has broken American law merely lacks documents. We can welcome people at the border, we can determine who needs asylum, we can fight human trafficking—and we can do all of those things without mangling language. But that’s an argument for another day.)

At times, my frustration with illegal immigration led me to embrace some pretty hardline views, and I would even say that by the early 2000s, I was radicalized on the issue. As my colleague David Frum wrote back in 2019:

Demagogues don’t rise by talking about irrelevant issues. Demagogues rise by talking about issues that matter to people, and that more conventional leaders appear unwilling or unable to address: unemployment in the 1930s, crime in the 1960s, mass immigration now.

I’m still pretty vehement about border security: In 2019, I was yelling at the television during the Democratic presidential primary debates when Julián Castro talked about decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings, apoplectic at the idea that nations can’t make laws about their own borders. I guess this makes me today something like a 1996 Democrat, back when the party platform said, “We must remain a nation of laws. We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it … Washington talked tough but failed to act. In 1992, our borders might as well not have existed.”

But DeSantis and Donald Trump have talked me out of supporting tougher policies. Why? Because intentions matter. A policy implemented by sadists is not a policy. It is cheap political gratification masquerading as policy, and it will always do more harm than good.

Trump’s ghastly child-separation debacle is a case study in hateful policy. The Trump administration, when it came into office in 2017, locked on to a truth about illegal immigration: It is difficult, for many reasons, to send families with babies and children back to their home countries. The children are blameless, even if the traffickers who brought them and their parents to America are not.

Previous administrations held and then deported many of these people. But as my colleague Caitlin Dickerson showed in great detail, the Trump administration was populated by a menagerie of immoral and cowardly appointees who decided to stop illegal immigration by separating children from parents, intentionally inflicting pain on parents and kids as a deterrent in itself. This policy was not only brutal but executed with maximum incompetence, with no real plan for ever reuniting these families.

And here we are again. Who came up with the idea of flying immigrants around the country? Was this motivated by some deep thinking in Tallahassee about our immigration problems? Or was it because some Fox host might have bloviated about owning the libs by sending immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard?

As it turns out, Fox’s chief bloviator, Tucker Carlson, suggested this very idea in July. DeSantis, one of the thirstiest politicians in America, clearly spotted an opportunity, so the taxpayers of Florida ended up paying to send people—some of whom seem to be asylum-seekers we should be welcoming—from Texas to Massachusetts. According to an immigration lawyer assisting with the migrants’ cases, someone (I assume people working with DeSantis or Texas Governor Greg Abbott) appears to have lied to the group of some 50 people, coaxing them to board the planes by saying they would get a “surprise,” and that jobs and homes awaited them—a particularly nasty touch in an already vomitous business.

I am against illegal immigration. But I am against the intentional tormenting of other human beings—especially children—even more. If my choice is the current mess or an immigration system run by ruthless opportunists such as Ron DeSantis—a man dancing on a chain while Tucker Carlson cranks the racist street organ—it’s not even close: I’ll stick with what we have. And I will never support anything, in any way, that runs the risk of handing power to people like DeSantis or his MAGA base.

Related:


Today’s News
  1. Ukrainian investigators began exhuming hundreds of bodies that were found in  grave sites in the recently reclaimed city of Izyum.
  2. Tropical Storm Fiona has prompted tropical-storm warnings for the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The storm’s center is approaching Guadeloupe in the eastern Caribbean Sea.
  3. U.S. stocks fell after FedEx—which is considered a leading market indicator— warned of a global recession.

Dispatches

Evening Read
A photograph of several smartphones stacked on top of one another
(Alamy; The Atlantic)

Don’t Trash Your Old Phone—Give It a Second Life

By Kaitlyn Tiffany

The original iPhone SE is a great little phone, and I love it. It has a headphone jack—remember those? It fits in a butt pocket. It was announced in the Obama era.

Sure, the first one I owned, which I purchased in 2017, had only 16GB of storage. And yes, I was forced to stop using it after a terrifying incident in which it refused to update to the latest iOS, even after I deleted nearly everything on it, which prevented me from installing the Ticketmaster app that I needed to enter a Harry Styles concert that I had flown to California by myself to attend. (Would you believe someone at the arena simply agreed to print the ticket out? I was crying.) After that, I bought a refurbished iPhone SE with 64GB of storage for $165. I eventually stopped using this one, because the camera was so bad that it was upsetting my friends. Also, a small part of the screen stopped working—right in the spot I had to press to switch the keyboard from letters to numbers, which meant I had no access to punctuation and came off, via text, as very cold. And I couldn’t log in to my bank account.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic


Culture Break
Viola Davis and other woman charging through a field as warriors in "The Woman King"
Viola Davis in The Woman King (Ilze Kitshoff / Sony Pictures)

Read. These seven books offer genuine insight into the pain of heartbreak.

Strangers to Ourselves, Rachel Aviv’s first book, examines the stories we tell ourselves about mental illness.

And for the last official weekend of summer, we’re bringing back our summer reading guide, with 21 books for a variety of moods.

Watch. The Woman King, in theaters, is an epic war film that complicates “good versus evil.”

Love Is Blind—the reality show America can’t look away from—is back with new episodes on Netflix.

Need more movie options for the weekend? Check out the 25 feel-good movies you’ll want to watch over and over, or the 10 must-watch indie movies of the summer.

Listen. Hold the Girl, Rina Sawayama’s second album, shows how sacrilege can be its own expression of soulfulness.

Play our daily crossword.


P.S.

Speaking of local stories, yesterday, The Boston Globe interviewed one of the men accused of murdering James “Whitey” Bulger in prison. Bulger was for decades among the most feared mobsters in Boston—and, in a twist ending worthy of the movies inspired by his exploits (such as The Departed and Black Mass), an FBI informant.

Boston, despite being a center of learning and culture, seems to punch above its weight as a setting for crime movies. The granddaddy of them all is a classic that every generation should revisit: The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Based on the 1970 novel by the legendary Boston novelist (and former prosecutor) George V. Higgins, the 1973 movie stars an aging Robert Mitchum and a young Peter Boyle. The plot isn’t all that complicated: It’s a noirish study of sleazeballs in a sleazy world. But it captures the gray seediness of postindustrial Massachusetts, where I grew up, and although it’s not uplifting, it’s a lot more realistic than watching Jack Nicholson try to chew his way through a Boston accent.

—Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.