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Millions for DeSantis' boat people boondoggle could go to Haiti

In this photo provided by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, a sailboat carrying a group of over 100 migrants from Haiti is shown after they arrived off Key West, Fla., early Wednesday, June, 26, 2024. (Monroe County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Monroe County Sheriff's Office/AP
Monroe County Sheriff's Office
Invasion Evasion: A sailboat carrying 117 Haitian migrants after arriving off Key West, Fla., in the early morning of Wednesday, June 26, 2024.

COMMENTARY If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis really wants to stop the waterborne migrant invasion he's girding for, he can steer the millions he's wasting on state patrols to Haiti development.

Could the 2024 invasion of Haitian boat people that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has so expensively and hysterically girded for finally be arriving on our state’s imperiled shores?

Not likely. But I do know this: DeSantis in the meantime could help prevent it from arriving. He could take the $20 million in taxpayer cash he’s wasting on his anti-immigration special forces base in the Keys — and redirect it to economic development in Haiti.

Yes, I’m aware that in the early hours Wednesday morning — when a boat carrying 117 Haitian migrants arrived off Key West — Florida's border defender-in-chief looked vindicated. The tsunami of illegal aliens he’d warned us was coming was coming.

The Great Pumpkin was here! And thank God DeSantis’ alien-intercepting green berets were around to confront it, right?

Reality check, however: that number, 117, is still below the monthly average of 126 migrants encountered in the Miami coastal sector this year — which itself is a low average for that sector.

What’s more: the Haitian vessel obviously got through that phalanx of airborne and seaborne commandos DeSantis has anointed to stop those Cuban, Haitian and other desperate emigres from descending on Florida’s beaches. And it appears that when the Haitians made it just 100 yards off land, it was actually Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Border Patrol agents who took them into custody, not the Governor’s intrepid marines.

READ MORE: Should DeSantis send Florida's military to Haiti — to battle Florida's guns?

So, it turns out the whole state migrant interdiction show really is just a boondoggle driven by xenophobe politics.

But if that’s the case, hey, don’t worry, Governor. I have another idea for how to use those millions of dollars to keep Haitian migrants from getting on Keys-bound boats in the first place.

Since your trademark as a state governor is usurping constitutionally federal roles, you can now pivot from playing U.S. Coast Guard to playing USAID — and help improve life in Haiti itself.

Since DeSantis' trademark as a state governor is usurping federal roles, he can pivot from playing U.S. Border Patrol to playing USAID — in Haiti.

To be fair, DeSantis’ original assumption — that Haiti’s gang-violence chaos and Cuba’s economic collapse would drive a new deluge of maritime migration to Florida this year — was hardly outlandish, even if his immigration enforcement theater is.

But that waterborne wave hasn’t materialized. So here’s another good assumption: Now that a multinational police support mission is finally arriving in Haiti to help subdue the gangs and stabilize the country, it looks even less likely Haitians will be sailing en masse to Florida soon.

And to help make sure of that, DeSantis can focus less on halting Haitian boats and more on creating Haitian jobs.

Child soldiers

Especially for an ocean of younger Haitians. If and when the powerful gangs that control much of Haiti are neutralized, the thousands of at-risk youths those criminal groups have recruited — as well as the tens if not hundreds of thousands or millions of at-risk youths they haven’t yet conscripted — will still be bereft of opportunity. Of hope.

A man teaches math to children living in a shelter for families who fled their homes amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince., Haiti, Monday, May 27, 2024.
Odelyn Joseph
A man teaches math to children living in a shelter for families who fled their homes amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince., Haiti, Monday, May 27, 2024.

In other words, they’ll still be drowning in the same conditions that made them such easy gang prey to begin with.

As I was recently reminded by Haitian architect and former education minister Leslie Voltaire, a member of Haiti’s new interim governing body, the Transitional Presidential Council:

“The gangs use them as child soldiers — the ones they send to burn schools, libraries, hospitals, to burn police stations. It will be a big problem to reintegrate those kids in society. There are too many Haitian kids who are lost.”

The fact is, $20 million can help reintegrate a lot of young Haitians. It can build schools in Port-au-Prince slums. It can buy soccer uniforms and equipment that keep kids off the streets. It can subsidize better nutrition for them and their struggling families. It can augment police salaries and resources for better security in their neighborhoods.

Just as important, it can seed the sort of businesses, employment — and futures — that have been all too scarce for all too many Haitians since the nation’s apocalyptic 2010 earthquake.

And the most important thing it can do as far as Florida is concerned: it can help keep Haitians in Haiti instead of in Key West.

It would, in short, do a hell of a lot more to keep Haitians from showing up in the Keys than DeSantis’ Florida SEALs do.

That, too, is good xenophobe politics, Governor.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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