Rachel Marsden: Before DeSantis sent migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Paris adopted a similar policy and here’s what happened

Opinion by Rachel Marsden

PARIS — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took responsibility this week for migrants from his state being sent to Martha’s Vineyard, a haven known as the stomping grounds of Democratic Party royalty, including the Obamas and the Kennedys. DeSantis says that he’s prepared to spend $12 million in state funds for relocation of migrants to northern states, and that proponents of sanctuary city policies should assume their consequences. So who does the stunt ultimately benefit?

A Venezuelan migrant is led onto a bus at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass on the island of Marthas Vineyard. A group of 48 migrants was flown to the island from Texas earlier this week, leaving them stranded. They are now being transferred to a military base in Cape Cod.

It’s easy to stay above the fray on an issue like immigration when living in a gilded community with no socioeconomic disparity, and just a 7.5 percent poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With about 17,000 people who live in Martha’s Vineyard year-round and about 200,000 in the summer, there’s certainly plenty of room to accommodate more diversity. Not to say that the inhabitants of such areas are necessarily on the political left. That would be a gross oversimplification. But they also don’t tend to be the type to criticize the misguided establishment immigration or foreign policy positions on both the right and left which have been equally responsible for perpetuating the U.S. migration problem. In fact, they do tend to be the type to look down their noses at the anti-establishment populists, particularly on the right, who speak out about such things.

If there’s a migration problem, it’s in large part due to the establishment Democrats and Republicans generally supporting an interventionist approach abroad, particularly toward resource-rich foreign foes in Latin America. And while there’s no doubt that socialism plays a role in creating adverse conditions for citizens of these countries leading them to migrate, people’s misery is greatly exacerbated by U.S. economic sanctions and political meddling in the interests of gaining or maintaining control of foreign natural resources. American voters who chronically back establishment actors of both parties who support this status quo bear much of the blame for the fact that the problem has now literally landed in their backyard.

It’s only when voters make the connection between migration and the root causes of it that things start to shift. Here in Europe, from Sweden to Italy to France, the populist right is surging in election after election. Viewed from North America, it may be difficult to understand how parties that promote similar positions to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s are making gains, but it’s important not to conflate the man with his policies. People who once considered populism to be radical while equating the establishment with reason are coming to the realization that it’s, in fact, the establishment that’s become radical.

As it turns out, a similar relocation of migrants to a posh area occurred in Paris a few years ago. In 2015, when French Socialist President Francois Hollande was in office, Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, pulled a DeSantis and relocated 200 homeless and migrants (primarily from Western conflict zones across the global south) to a large park of the posh 16th arrondissement — a ritzy neighborhood not far from the Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe. Hidalgo was all about promoting social diversity. Tens of thousands of signatures on a petition opposing the move ultimately fell on deaf ears. Some locals worried about their property value, others said that they had worked their whole lives to afford a nice place only for it to risk being devalued. Yet another told Le Parisien at the time that “putting those who have nothing next to those who have everything makes no sense.” The existence of the establishment for its original purpose has now been extended into 2024.

Rachel Marsden

Over time, average citizens tend to become resigned to whatever the establishment foists upon them as they face the need to continue with their daily lives. But as voters they don’t. Regardless of who instigates such incidents — whether it’s Socialist French politicians intent on creating diversity or Florida’s Republican populist governor trying to prove a point about federal immigration policies — the end result is an increased awareness of the problem and its root causes. The issue then typically plays out at the ballot box in favor of right-wing populists. Realizing this, the establishment is lost in trying to mitigate the damage caused by their own pro-migrant ideology as it backfires, fueling the populist-right.

Last week, for instance, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a new bill to better disperse migrants across the country to “rural areas, which are losing population.” But the idea of reducing heavy migrant presence in large cities would only serve to once again incite the same kind of reaction as in Martha’s Vineyard or in the ritzy part of Paris. People generally don’t like it when they’re made to bear the brunt of government policies – even ones that they may have supported in abstract or in theory.

DeSantis’ actions unearthed the distaste of federal policies well beyond the border states. Martha’s Vineyard locals and those who sympathize with them might at this point want to seize the opportunity for some political soul-searching. If they truly aren’t keen on personally welcoming an influx of fleeing migrants, then they may want to support political candidates who don’t consider it wise to evoke humanitarian and security excuses to start or to perpetuate foreign wars or economic sanctions or who believe that America should serve as a giant crash pad for the rest of the world. And if they don’t like having to contend with the results of such policies imposed by establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle, then maybe it’s time for them to rethink their support of the far too normalized radicalism that the establishment has come to represent.

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(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of independently produced talk shows in French and English. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)

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