Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be getting a bit big for his britches. He's not only imagining himself as the nation's next president as he competes for the Republican nomination, but he recently envisioned himself as one of Jesus' disciples during one of history's greatest dramas.
"These guys all went out and they dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel," DeSantis said in a televised interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network. "I look back at that and would love to have been able to be there with them." Some died horrific deaths as martyrs. None of them sought or gained governmental power, so it's an interesting take from an ambitious politician.
That's not the only area where DeSantis might need a Sunday school refresher. Recently, someone orchestrated unannounced charter air flights of immigrants from a refugee camp to Sacramento. As CNN reported, the Latin American asylum seekers, who had documents purportedly from Florida's government, were driven from Texas to New Mexico, then flown to California and dumped on the doorstep of the Catholic diocese.
"We are here because they offered us a job," a Venezuelan man told CNN. "We were deceived by the people who provided the flight service. They offered us jobs and housing." Defenders say the operation was voluntary because the refugees signed papers—even though few understood the English verbiage. DeSantis had been mum, but his administration later reportedly defended the flights by saying the migrants were well-treated.
Last year, DeSantis boasted that he sent 50 migrants from a Texas facility (yes, Florida officials went to Texas to do this) to the Massachusetts vacation town of Martha's Vineyard. "There may be more flights, there may be buses," DeSantis told cheering supporters. As Reuters reported, Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott sent 17,000 migrants to Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago.
The obvious goal is to force Democratic states to deal with the consequences of a Democratic administration's lax immigration policy. The Biden administration denies that it is ignoring the border problem and claims illegal border crossings are down 70 percent, but in January Pew Research Center found that encounters between border agents and immigrants were at record levels. DeSantis is making border security a top political issue.
Ironically, many recent migrants are from Venezuela, which suggests the situation isn't entirely the result of a porous border, as The New Yorker noted, but the failure of a far-off communist hellhole that has displaced 20 percent of its population. The article reminded us that non-border-state Florida typically has welcomed refugees from totalitarian Cuba.
Real border states are struggling to deal with an influx of illegal border-crossers and those seeking asylum. Voters should certainly debate the nation's immigration policies, which are fair game for earnest disagreement. Can't both sides agree, however, that it's wrong to use human beings as pawns in an apparent political stunt?
Do these airlifts sound like something Jesus and his disciples would have supported or something from uncaring Roman authorities? As the Gospel of Luke explains, Caesar Augustus mandated a census, thus requiring people who lived in the Roman Empire to trudge to their home towns to be registered for tax purposes. Jesus ended up in a manger after Mary and Joseph failed to find a place to stay.
During his ministry, Jesus had much to say about how we should treat strangers. In the story of the Good Samaritan, for instance, a lawyer questions Jesus about how he can receive eternal life. Jesus answers by telling him to love the Lord with all his heart and to "love your neighbor as yourself."
The lawyer responds in a lawyerly way: "Who is my neighbor?" And then Jesus tells the parable, by which the Samaritan helps a traveler who was left for dead by robbers—after a priest and Levite passed by the injured man. The real neighbor was the lowly man who helped the traveler, not the religious officials who went along their merry way.
After the migrants were dropped off in Sacramento, religious groups have tended to their needs, which showed that some people know the right way to behave. Attorney General Rob Bonta promised an investigation into whether the trip involved "state-sanctioned kidnapping." Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted DeSantis in a vicious tweet. I'm no fan of these politicians, either, but they are right to be outraged.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg struck the right tone: "Sacramento is going to do everything it can to care for these vulnerable people who are dropped off at our doorsteps. No matter what the terrible motivation was from whoever did this, that's our job." In fact, liberal communities have schooled these conservative politicians by providing assistance to the stranded migrants.
They indeed have been Good Samaritans. DeSantis might envision himself as one of Jesus' disciples, but before he gets too carried away he might want to brush up on that parable.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.