Ron DeSantis’s good fortune, Greg Abbott’s reversal


“Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”  –President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, address to the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1938


Two governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, want no part in helping migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. This is true even if they are in the U.S., like most of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 13, on humanitarian parole until an immigration judge rules whether they have refugee status and can stay here.

But there is more to the story.

At the height of World War I, many Europeans sought to escape the violence and destruction wrought by the fighting. Many wanted a better life in the U.S., where the war did not affect the daily lives of the American people. The goal was to escape the war, with all its ramifications of death, famine, upheaval, even persecution. It was dangerous to stay and dangerous to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, where German U-boats were on the prowl, sinking military and civilian ships. 

Many people faced starvation in Italy, where the farmland was devastated by constant shelling. In 1914, at the beginning of the war, 100,000 Italians fled their country, and in 1920, another 200,000. Most came to America.

Genealogist Megan Smolyak has found that an Italian woman named Luigia Colucci was among those fleeing the fighting. U.S. Immigration officials nearly turned her away because she could not read or write. This was a requirement of the recently passed Immigration Act of 1917, designed to slow, even stop, immigrants from coming into the U.S. from Asia, Mexico, and the Mediterranean.

One sponsor of the bill, Alabama Representative John Burnett, claimed the new law would halt at least 40 percent of the people from Mediterranean countries trying to make it to America. 

There was only one thing that helped Luigia: Despite her illiteracy, immigration officers had to admit her. While the law was on the books when she arrived in February 1917, she was allowed in because the law did not go into effect until May, 10 weeks after her arrival.

For Florida Governor DeSantis, this was a very fortunate moment. Luigia was his great-great grandmother.

She wanted to join her husband, Salvatore Storti, who had lived here since 1904. Today’s opponents of immigration call this unification of a family “chain migration,” and Luigia was a lucky beneficiary. Soon afterward, although they already had two daughters, she and her husband had a son born in America: Critics today refer to such children as “anchor babies,” when immigrants have children born on American soil who automatically gain American citizenship.

DeSantis obviously never thought about his own history when he sent 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants to the Island a few weeks back. He should have. It might have given him some perspective on the problem.

The same is true for Texas Governor Abbott. He has taken the lead in sending migrants to New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., even to the home of Vice President Kamala Harris. According to Smolyak, the genealogist, Abbott’s ancestry is hard to determine, suggesting only that perhaps his family came to America before barriers severely regulated immigration.

But when he was Texas attorney general, he played a different tune.

NPR reported that John Owens, Abbott’s deputy chief of the consumer protection division, told them, “Governor Abbott used to say when he was attorney general that I don’t care about the status of someone, whether or not they are a citizen or a permanent resident or have documents. If they’re a victim in Texas, we’re going to” protect them, especially from fraud. Owens said that “Abbott’s office went after fake immigration lawyers, sellers of phony international driver’s licenses,” and that “they even called employers who didn’t pay their unauthorized workforce.”

Abbott himself said, “Hispanic consumers must know that the doors of our justice system are open to everyone, regardless of where you may live, regardless of where you may be born, regardless of what language you speak or what your last name is.”

So what changed? 

Abbott quickly retreated from his open-minded actions after Donald J. Trump’s famous announcement of his presidential candidacy in 2015. Trump attacked Mexico with these words and his usual hedge: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

President Ronald Reagan hailed immigration reform. In 1986, he noted, “Our objective is to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly, secure system of immigration into this country, and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations.”

In 2007, when his immigration reform bill was defeated, a disappointed President George W. Bush noted, “A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find common ground. It didn’t work.”

It also wouldn’t work today. With a highly divided Congress, immigration reform will not pass soon, if ever. We can expect more callous and cruel actions by the Texas and Florida governors as they plot ways to remove those seeking a better life with peace and security to places that will warmly welcome them.

Like Martha’s Vineyard.


Jack Fruchtman, who lives in Aquinnah, has written “The Supreme Court and Constitutional Law,” now in its third edition, and “American Constitutional History,” now in its second.


  1. Interesting article. As an independent voter, in my opinion, there is a clear disconnect/communication gap between the political parties. From my perspective, it seems the republicans are aware that there are *some* seeking residency in the US that abuse the immigration system by claiming asylum status by lying about a situation or condition in their native country that cannot be verified (how do I know this? I speak more than one language and the person that made the false claim told me. To those who are going to ask: why didn’t you “report” it? Have you reported every person you know to the IRS that has ‘underreported’ their income?). Whereas, democrats seem to be unaware or willfully ignore the possibility that people lie. To draw a parallel, a critique of ‘believe all woman’ is that by doing so an innocent person *may* be convicted which is antithetical to the American Justice system (“That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer” Attribution: Benjamin Franklin letter to Benjamin Vaughan, March 14, 1785). How can this difference between political parties be reconciled? As an independent, I am solution oriented and, in my opinion, Marco Rubio suggested the best solution during his run for president. Give undocumented persons a path towards citizenship but impose a civil penalty. To attribute another gem to Ben Franklin: “both sides must part with some of their demands in order that they may join in some accommodating proposition.” To those entrenched in their positions and disgust to those who hold different views, I will leave you with words I recently read as they cut both ways: ‘You must always be willing to truly consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs, and admit the possibility that you may be wrong. Intelligence isn’t knowing everything, it’s the ability to challenge everything you know.’

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