Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez has come under fire for her comments that many interpreted as support of busing Cuban migrants to Delaware.
Nuñez, herself the daughter of Cubans who settled in Miami, made the controversial remarks last week in an interview with Actualidad 1040 AM, a Spanish-language radio station popular with many Cubans living in South Florida. "The governor isn't going to stand there with his arms crossed. He's thinking what he's going to do. He's going to send them, frankly to the state of Delaware, the president's state," Nuñez said on the Cada Tarde show.
The comments come as Florida has dealt with a record-breaking influx of Cuban migrants in the last year. Data from Customs and Border Protection and other federal law enforcement agencies have confirmed that almost 180,000 Cuban migrants have arrived in the United States since 2021, more than arrived in the Mariel boatlift and the 1994 Balsero crisis combined. These migrants are fleeing Cuba as the communist island struggles with blackouts, shortages, and other economic setbacks worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This migration has coincided with another large influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border that has strained the federal government's resources. However, rather than lobbying for reforms to U.S. immigration laws and the immigration system as a whole, anti-immigration politicians have responded to the crisis by busing migrants to New York City and Washington, D.C. These efforts, while flashy, have been costly. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's efforts have cost taxpayers $1,400 per migrant while doing little to deter arrivals. Back in April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged he would also bus migrants outside of his state to Delaware.
Democrats in the state wasted no time in criticizing DeSantis and Nuñez. "This should shake every freedom-loving Floridian who may not look like, speak like, or vote like Governor DeSantis," Rep. Charlie Crist (D–Fla.)—the Democratic nominee running against DeSantis for governor this year—said in a statement to Florida Politics. "If he is willing to play with the safety and well-being of refugees from a communist dictatorship just to play political games to win the White House in 2024, he has disqualified himself from public office."
Others have noted the hypocrisy of the comments, given DeSantis' messaging emphasis on combating socialism and communism. "You can't say you stand against communism in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua and then turn your back on those fleeing authoritarian regimes," Florida Democratic state Sen. Annette Tadeo, who is running for Congress in South Florida, said at a press conference at Miami's iconic Freedom Tower on Monday.
Nuñez, for her part, has backtracked since her comments went viral on social media, arguing that Democrats and the media jumped to conclusions and misinterpreted her. "Entering the country illegally and fleeing a dictatorship to seek asylum are two different things, and misrepresenting that is offensive," she tweeted on Monday. DeSantis and his most prominent allies have also come to her defense.
The controversy comes at a peculiar time politically. Nuñez and DeSantis will need the support of Cuban American voters in South Florida to win reelection in a competitive state. Though some experts on the Cuban diaspora have noticed changes within the Cuban exile community on government support for new arrivals, Cuban Americans have historically backed flexible immigration policies for their fellow Cuban migrants.