DeSantis spokeswoman charges Miami archbishop with lying about governor's migration remarks

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appoints judges to Miamis Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court March 27 2019 Credit Hunter Crenian Shutterstock Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appoints judges to Miami's Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court, March 27, 2019. | Hunter Crenian/Shutterstock.

The governor of Florida is taking issue with an ad campaign featuring a quote from Archbishop Thomas Wenski criticizing the governor for his views on immigration. 

In a Feb. 15 tweet, Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), said that “lying is a sin” in reference to a recent ad campaign featuring the Wenski’s words.

“And yes, if someone makes a false statement, whether it’s an organization of CEOs for illegal immigration or the Archbishop, I will call it like it is. They made a blatantly false statement and they should retract it,” she said.

Pushaw, a Catholic, said that she has “no antipathy toward any religion” and that “Catholics do not have to support illegal immigration or human smuggling.” 

The advertisements, placed by the American Business Immigration Coalition Action, quote Wenski claiming that DeSantis called immigrant children “disgusting.”

“DeSantis wants to eliminate immigrant children’s shelters in Florida, like the ones that housed Cuban children who came alone during the Pedro Pan exodus in the 1960s,” said the Spanish-language advertisement. 

An English translation of the advertisement was published on its Vimeo page. 

“To please his political base, DeSantis wants to convince us that the suffering of those children was more worthy of help than that of these Venezuelan and Haitian children who are fleeing dictatorship, socialism and violence,” said the ad. “That’s why many of the Pedro Pans, who today are pillars of this community, are expressing their outrage alongside Catholic Archbishop Wenski and business leaders.” 

Operation Peter Pan, also known as Operación Pedro Pan, was a clandestine program in the early 1960s that brought 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minor children to the United States amid fears that Fidel Castro would seize custody of children to indoctrinate them to communism.

The program ended in October 1962. About 90% of the “Pedro Pans” were eventually reunited with their parents during the “Freedom Flights” exodus from Cuba. 

DeSantis issued an executive order in December that prohibited state regulators from issuing licenses to shelters that house unaccompanied minors in partnership with the federal government. The governor said that he believed funding these shelters would be akin to cooperating with human smuggling. 

It is unclear how many unaccompanied minors found at the U.S. border are victims of human trafficking. 

On Feb. 7, DeSantis told a group of former Pedro Pan participants that the comparison between their situation and the current unaccompanied minor crisis was “disgusting.”

In a press conference on Feb. 10, Wenski condemned this rhetoric, saying it was a “new low in the zero-sum politics of our divisive times.”  

“At Governor DeSantis’ Monday meeting with a few former Pedro Pan kids in Miami’s Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, he described any comparison of unaccompanied minors from Cuba in the early 60’s with those from Central America today as ‘disgusting’”, Archbishop Thomas Wenski said during a Feb. 10 press conference.

“Children are children — and no child should be deemed ‘disgusting’ — especially by a public servant,” he continued at his Feb. 10 press conference.

The Archdiocese of Miami declined to comment when reached for contact, telling CNA that they were not behind the ads and that “any communication involving the Governor and the Archbishop would be conducted between them, not through the media.”

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