Florida’s Cuban-American lieutenant governor — who doubles as co-chair of President Donald Trump’s Hispanic outreach campaign — shared billing Wednesday night with a representative from a hard-line group that says it wants to defeat” immigration anarchy” in Florida.
Miami Republican Jeanette Núñez was a special guest at a talk hosted by the Federated Republican Women of North Dade. Jonathan Hanen, who represents the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or “FAIR,” was also a guest speaker.
The organization has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and helped write a controversial “sanctuary cities” ban that was signed into law in June by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
According to video of the 20-minute speech provided by the Republican women’s group, Hanen warned of immigrant “caravans forcing their way in” to the country. He said that illegal immigrants have burdened the economy and led to “crime in every state.”
But Núñez told the Miami Herald in an interview Friday that she left the event before Hanen spoke, and was unaware of his participation. Likewise, state Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Republican Miami lawmaker and state Senate candidate who also spoke during the event, told the Herald that she knew nothing of FAIR as an organization.
“I can’t control what individuals get invited to what events,” Núñez said. “Just the fact that I speak at it isn’t an endorsement of any group, FAIR or otherwise. I just went to speak to the Republican women of North Dade and that was the extent.”
In a statement, Maricel Cobitz, president of the Federated Republican Women of North Dade, said Hanen was invited because of his “area of expertise, immigration reform.”
“He provided our audience with an overview of the history, legislation and enforcement of immigration laws,” she said. “We believe in the rule of law and legal immigration.”
Matthew Tragesser, a spokesman for FAIR, said the group is non-partisan and that representatives from the group attend events “of all types” around the country.
“FAIR’s published material is for educational purposes and aims to facilitate discourse on one of the nation’s most pressing and sensitive issues today,” he wrote in an email.
The talk, “The Current Immigration Crisis and What can be done to Fix it,” cost $35 for members and $400 for a table of 10 at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant near Miami International Airport.
According to a video of the speech, Hanen spent 20 minutes discussing the “national crisis at the border,” the current status of congressional legislation on illegal immigration and border security, and the media firestorm over unlawful entry and family separation at the border. He answered questions for 10 minutes following the speech.
“A nation without borders is no nation at all,” he said. “It’s a decision we make as a political community ... not through caravans forcing their way in.”
He went on to talk about what he calls the “golden age of immigration” when millions of immigrants came to Ellis Island from Europe.
“Everyone was coming here legally. There was no welfare state,” he said. “Today, those conditions are very different ... it has its costs in terms of economics, crime in every state.”
Núñez, a former state lawmaker from the suburbs in western Miami-Dade County, often stresses the strength of the economy and the “opportunity” that she says Hispanic voters have had since Trump took office. In media interviews, she has supported Trump and defended his rhetoric.
At the Wednesday event, she said, she spoke about her experience during the 2018 midterm campaign and highlighted some of the DeSantis administration’s success in his first term.
Rodríguez, former vice mayor of Doral, is campaigning to succeed Sen. Anitere Flores as the state senator representing District 39, a largely Hispanic South Florida district.
She said she attended the event to deliver a legislative recap for the group including information on the state budget, water quality projects, affordable housing and a bill she co-sponsored that expanded cancer coverage to firefighters. She said she knew nothing about FAIR.
“I didn’t hear anything he spoke about,” she wrote in a text Thursday. “My portion of the program was a 2019 legislative recap. I hadn’t heard of [FAIR].”
But during the 2019 legislative session, Rodríguez voted yes on the much-contested “sanctuary cities” bill — a bill drafted with the help of FAIR.
David Caulkett, the organization’s vice president, told the News Service of Florida in March that his group, which he says is an “anti-illegal immigration” activist group, worked closely with Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, on the legislation.
Anders Croy, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party’s Senate Victory committee, called Rodriguez’s appearance at the event “appalling.” He didn’t address Núñez.
“South Floridians deserve an explanation from Ana Maria Rodriguez about her unflinching support for a hate group that spent the last legislative session helping to implement Donald Trump’s plans to separate families and spread fear throughout our state’s immigrant communities,” he wrote in an email.
The Southern Poverty Law Center website says FAIR is a “hate group” because John Tanton, who helped form the group, has “expressed his wish that America remains a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of non-whites who enter the country.”
In a handout given to attendees, FAIR says that state taxpayers are subsidizing undocumented immigrants. That’s a narrative that has played out in recent days after Trump announced a move to redefine and expand its definition of a “public charge” — the term used by the government to describe applicants for green cards or visas who are dependent on the government.
“There’s only about 12%, 15% [of immigrants] coming here for high-skilled [jobs], and really it is in the high fifties [percent] for family unification or chain migration, so that is something that President Trump is trying to turn around,” Hanen said Wednesday, according to a video of the speech.
The FAIR handouts also highlighted crime rates, incarceration rates, growth of “sanctuary cities” in America, job displacement and an outline of Trump’s immigration policies.