Fabiola Santiago: Try as he might, DeSantis can’t fight Florida's changing demographics

© Miami Herald

OPED-SANTIAGO-COLUMN-OS. - Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Poor Gov. Ron DeSantis.

He’s working hard to keep Blacks and Latinos off the playing field in Florida with voting- and protest-suppression laws, banning sanctuary cities and, now, ordering law enforcement to profile immigrants on the road.

But, here’s a hefty dose of reality to smack the governor in the face.

It’s too late to fight the demographics. Florida is gaining more Latinos than any other state, except, predictably, Texas, concluded the 2021 U.S. Latino GDP Report recently released by the nonprofit Latino Donor Collaborative.

Between 2015 and 2019 alone, more than 700,000 Latinos were added to our state’s population. And according to the 2020 census, which also revealed an increasingly multiracial America, Latinos make up 26.2% of Florida’s population.

That’s 5.3 million Hispanics, bad news for DeSantis, who can’t restrain his white-supremacist instincts — and is desperately trying to engineer an unfriendly atmosphere for both settled and new immigrants to Florida.

During the Donald Trump years, DeSantis targeted the influx of Central Americans, and he’s now doing likewise to Haitians under Joe Biden. He thinks he’s punishing this other “foreign” Florida, but he’s bad-mouthing and hurting all of us immigrants.

His newly issued mandate to law enforcement that they pull over drivers they suspect are transporting immigrants into the state is going to be tricky to carry out without violating Americans’ constitutional rights.

His directive amounts to blatant ethnic and racial profiling inspired by news that, while the Biden administration expelled 4,000 asylum-seeking Haitians in nine days, most of them men, immigration officials released families to loved ones in places such as South Florida.

While their asylum cases are pending, they’ll be part of another growing sector of Florida’s population — Blacks of Caribbean descent. Florida is the No. 1 destination for Haitians, where they make up 2.4% of the population.

How will DeSantis’ troopers be able to tell if that van on Florida’s Turnpike full of people of a certain skin tone is one of our lovely families traveling to Disney World or a suspected smuggling ring?

They can’t. Injustices will be committed.

Outside of the Miami-Dade County cocoon, where racism, too, lives on but is less overt, Hispanic and Black families too often feel the discrimination without now having to worry about police being “encouraged,” as the governor put it, to stop them on the road on a mere “reasonable” suspicion of wrongdoing.

What constitutes such a suspicion to people like DeSantis?

Mere existence.

Given his history with dog-whistle language and actions, a car full of Haitians on a Florida road carpooling, minding their own business, being regular people, will do.

At the press conference where he announced this latest infamy, DeSantis called his prejudice “protecting the people of Florida” because that’s all he sees, immigrants as criminals, not as the contributors to society that every economic indicator shows.

But we know the motive: The governor is seriously fearmongering his way to reelection in 2022, and his base must be kept in a state of agitation. Race will do the job every time.

Thankfully, DeSantis is getting some pushback.

In September in Miami, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom struck down key portions of his sanctuary city ban. Bloom ruled that part of it “was enacted based on biased and unreliable data generated by anti-immigrant hate groups” and has a “chilling and disparate impact” on immigration communities.

Yes, a judge acknowledged what many of us said when DeSantis and Florida Republicans rammed this down our throats: He and the Florida Legislature acted with prejudice based on hate.

In fact, September was a pretty bad month for DeSantis in court.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker also ruled against his attempt to quash protests in Florida, blocking the so-called “anti-riot law” DeSantis pushed in response to nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd.

The judge ruled that the definition of “riot” in the legislation was too vague and likely violated the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, DeSantis still feels emboldened enough to keep on issuing executive orders to rein in Latino and Black population growth.

He’s so transparent, even wickedly comical at times.

During the Trump years, he ordered that local agencies fully cooperate with immigration authorities. His new edict forbids state executive agencies from assisting the federal government in transporting immigrants from the southern border to Florida.

DeSantis also has sued Biden in federal court in Pensacola, friendly terrain to his anti-immigrant stance, alleging that many of the immigrants the Biden administration has “illegally released” will come to Florida and cost the state money.

His evilness, in practice, likely won’t stop anybody from reaching their Florida destination.

Plenty of humane souls will provide transportation and support to the Haitians, even buy Disney hats for the kids — DeSantis’ law enforcement officers, ready to profile, notwithstanding.

And then, there’s this: Latinos and Blacks are a growing force in Florida — and they vote.

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