The conflict over migrant minors pits Florida against the Catholic Church


Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski speaks during a press conference, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, at the Archdiocese of Miami Pastoral Center in Miami Shores, Florida. Wenski was joined by business and community leaders, some of whom were unaccompanied minors brought to the United States from Cuba during Operation Peter Pan in the 1960s, urging Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders state to “stop advancing anti-immigrant policies that hurt Florida’s children and economy.” (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


The debate over whether to deter or accommodate minors arriving at the US-Mexico border without their parents has pitted Florida’s Catholic governor against the state’s highest-ranking Roman Catholic.

A spokesperson for Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted about Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski, who incorrectly said DeSantis had called unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border ‘disgusting’, while the Governor does not didn’t say that.

“Lying is a sin,” DeSantis publicist Christina Pushaw tweeted Tuesday, referring to an ad that included a photo of Wenski. It drew strong online backlash from supporters of Wenski and his stance that while the Biden administration’s immigration policy may be ‘chaotic’, the state should show ‘magnanimity’. with those who arrive, especially the children.

The leader of the Archdiocese of Miami and other faith groups have implored the governor to reconsider an order that suspends state license renewals for shelters that house unaccompanied children, saying such young migrants are vulnerable.

Wenski pointed out that the policy would shut down a home run by Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Miami that originally opened to care for Cuban refugee minors. He argued that children who have come in recent years from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are no different from Cuban children who arrived 60 years ago sent by parents who feared being indoctrinated under Fidel Castro’s new communist state.

DeSantis, who wants to deter illegal immigration, appeared last week at a roundtable with Cuban supporters and dismissed comparisons with the early 1960s exodus of 14,000 Cuban miners.

“To equate what is happening on the southern border with massive human trafficking, illegal entry, drugs, all these other things with Operation Pedro Pan is frankly disgusting. It’s wrong, it’s not even close to the same,” DeSantis said. “They were fleeing a communist dictatorship that persecuted them. They were not illegal immigrants.

A few days later, Wenski spoke at a press conference with other business leaders and Cuban exiles criticizing Governor DeSantis, but he incorrectly suggested that the governor had referred to migrant children as themselves. even disgusting.

“This is a new low in the zero-sum politics of our divisive era,” Wenski said. “Children are children, and no child should be considered disgusting, especially by a public official.”

Although opposing the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Florida may seem like a risky position for a governor who has focused on conservative family values, former Florida Republican strategist Mac Stipanovich said the episode could play on the “Republican base”.

“They decided they would gain more by going after innocent, brown-skinned children than they would lose by criticizing the archbishop,” said Stipanovich, who quit the GOP and backed Joe Biden at the presidency.

The facilities at risk of losing their license are part of a federally funded program for minors who typically arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border without their parents and reunite them with relatives already in the country.

Children must seek counsel on their own, but can present their case to an immigration judge, who decides whether they qualify for legal redress. A report by the Congressional Research Service last September noted that many factors push children to migrate, including lack of employment, the presence of gangs, corruption as well as tropical storms and food insecurity.

DeSantis issued the order saying he did not want to get involved in a federal program that encourages the trafficking of minors without their parents.

Under the George W. Bush administration, Congress transferred the care and custody of migrant children from immigration authorities to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which operates a network of shelters primarily run by organizations in nonprofit to provide less restrictive environments for children.

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