They were lured to the airplane with $10 McDonald’s gift cards, then forced to sign something they couldn’t read, then shipped off on an airplane from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Republicans delighted in the stunt. Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who masterminded the whole endeavor, promised more: “It is not the responsibility of Floridians to subsidize aliens to reside in our state unlawfully; we did not consent to Biden’s open-borders agenda.”
The story of the Venezuelan migrants who were moved from Texas (not Florida) to the small Massachusetts island dominated the news cycle. DeSantis showed himself to possess the same cruelty that delighted Trump’s voters. The 50 people were eventually moved to mainland Cape Cod, where Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, who is also a Republican, found supportive services for them.
I didn’t start crying until I read the quote from Harbor Homes shelter manager Lisa Belcastro: “Every single person has come up and said they want a job; they are not looking for a handout. Some of these people have been through horrific things. They need a break. They need help.”
“Many politicians exploit human beings for political gain, but Mr. DeSantis’s burlesque subverts even the low standards in modern American politics,” wrote The Washington Post editorial board. “By enlisting asylum seekers as unwitting propaganda dupes, Florida’s governor demonstrates nothing more than his own callousness.”
But it’s more than just callousness. These people are us—we are all immigrants. The only difference between these Venezuelans and my great-grandparents is 130 years. Just like my grandparents’ parents, these Venezuelans just want a chance to work and be safe. They want the American dream, which Republicans used to support. By rejecting the culture of immigration that created us, we are fundamentally rejecting our Americanness. More importantly we are rejecting our own humanity.
The dehumanization of immigrants (or anyone) is a Rubicon that, once crossed, can set in motion the worst of humanitarian disasters. Once people are no longer people, once they are just numbers or pawns, once people are no longer living and breathing beings like the rest of us, they are statistics. This dehumanization can only ever lead to the devaluing of human life.
My great-grandparents came to this country because Jews were being hunted and killed in Poland and Ukraine. I don’t think much about their immigrant experience because all my grandparents were born in this country or the U.K. But sometimes I think about a cartoon I once saw at the Holocaust Museum. It depicts a line of people at a crossroad, confronting a bunch of signs with the names of countries out. The final says, “Any country,” and it too is crossed out. The cartoon is from the British newspaper The Daily Express, and it was published in 1938. How many of those people were among the six million that died in concentration camps?
Sometimes I go back and read a little essay called “I Don’t Know How to Explain to You That You Should Care About Other People,” written in 2017 by Kayla Chadwick. The essay talks about the social contract we sign to live in a society. We pay taxes and follow the law because we care about each other. This is how we survive. This is how we honor our own humanity.
Unimaginable cruelty happens when we lose touch with our humanity. We spend so much time talking about politics and policy. But these are real people with real lives. The argument about refugees often forgets the granular nature of their humanity and our own. These people are just like us, just born into worse circumstances.
This notion is especially true in a country like America, where only very few of us are descended from Indigenous people. If someone hadn’t let my great-grandparents into this country, I wouldn’t be here today. You probably would not be either.