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Colorado Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea said Sunday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was “right” to transport about 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers to the island of Martha’s Vineyard this week.
O’Dea, a first-time candidate and CEO of a Denver construction company, faces an uphill battle to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in November. He made the comments defending DeSantis’ actions on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“Are you comfortable with the idea of using migrants as a political tool?” host Chuck Todd asked O’Dea.
“I think Ron DeSantis and (Texas) Gov. (Greg) Abbott were right to bring some visibility to this issue,” O’Dea said.
Attorneys for the migrants, most of whom are Venezuelan refugees seeking asylum, told state and federal authorities Saturday that their clients were “induced to board airplanes and cross state lines under false pretenses.”
The migrants were reportedly lured onto the planes under the direction of an unidentified woman known as “Perla” with promises of jobs, housing and other resources. Rachel Self, an attorney who spoke with the migrants while they were on Martha’s Vineyard, alleged they were given falsified documents by Department of Homeland Security immigration officials.
Todd pressed O’Dea on whether DeSantis’ scheme was the “right way” to bring attention to the issue.
“We’ve got fentanyl killing our kids,” O’Dea replied. “People call what he did cruel. You know what’s cruel? Ignoring this issue. Democrats are ignoring it, doing nothing while our kids are dying.”
A growing number of Venezuelan refugees have fled the country in 2022 to seek refuge in Central America, Mexico and the United States, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. The agency estimates that there are roughly 5.7 million Venezuelan refugees in the Americas, the vast majority of whom are located in neighboring South American countries like Colombia and Peru.
DeSantis’ transportation of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard — a small, remote island that lacks services but is known as an enclave for wealthy liberals — is an escalation of a tactic employed by Abbott, who has bused migrants from Texas to large, Democratic-leaning cities like New York and Washington, D.C. Under a state budget approved earlier this year, DeSantis plans to spend up to $12 million on the transportation program.
O’Dea has previously spoken enthusiastically about the prospect of DeSantis’ 2024 presidential candidacy.
“There’s a lot of really good candidates that can serve an eight-year term,” he said in response to a question about the GOP’s 2024 nomination in June. “I really like DeSantis.”
On Sunday, O’Dea repeated his calls to “close (the U.S.-Mexico) border down.” He has endorsed certain immigration reforms, including a path to citizenship for Dreamers, while calling for tens of billions to be spent hiring more border agents and completing former President Donald Trump’s border wall.
“That’s why I’m running,” O’Dea said. “I need to get in there so we can get a bipartisan bill together that solves this issue.”
Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.