PROVIDENCE — During a forum in May, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus named Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the current or former elected leader she admires most.
Now Kalus is facing questions about what she thinks of DeSantis taking credit for sending nearly 50 migrants from Venezuela to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday without notice to residents or island officials.
In a statement Friday, Kalus said, “People, especially women and children, should never be used for political stunts as they were this week. It’s unacceptable. If these folks were dropped off on Block Island or another community in Rhode Island, our state would be facing a very serious situation.”
That’s a shift from a statement the Kalus campaign issued Thursday, in which Kalus said, “Like many Rhode Islanders, my family traces our lives in the United States to a welcoming, fair, legal immigration system. I have benefited immensely from the opportunities given to me by this country. I strongly believe that, as in all matters of public debate, immigration is about balance.”
While immigration is mostly a federal matter, elected leaders must ensure the United States remains a “welcoming nation of opportunity,” she said.
“At the same time, protecting public safety is the most important job of the governor,” Kalus said. “We must ensure our borders are secure and our communities are safe – which the Biden and McKee administrations have failed to do. In my view, immigration is what makes America strong, innovative, and prosperous. We are the greatest country in the world. We have a duty to get this balance right.”
It was not clear how she felt R.I. Governor Daniel J. McKee had failed to secure the nation’s borders.
McKee, who won Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, also weighed in.
“Ashley Kalus has said Ron DeSantis is her role model, and now he is engaging in the worst type of politics — playing on hate and fear and using refugees as political pawns,” McKee campaign manager Brexton Isaacs said in a statement. “That type of behavior might work where Ashley Kalus is from, but it’s not our Rhode Island values. As long as Dan McKee is governor, he will keep Ron DeSantis and his hateful politics out of Rhode Island and focus on real solutions to our problems, not hateful political stunts.”
Rhode Island’s main refugee resettlement agency, the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, called the situation on Martha’s Vineyard “heartbreaking and confusing.”
“The residents of the island opened their arms and hearts to help, just like the people of Rhode Island did last year when severe upheaval brought Afghans to the Ocean State, and again this year as Ukrainians are fleeing war in their homeland,” the organization said in a statement.
While the past year has seen a series of crises around the world, the group said, “This year has also proven that we, along with our community partners, are well equipped to welcome, assist and support those in need – whether we know they are arriving or not. At this time, we are working to ensure an emergency plan is in place should we experience an event similar to what occurred on Martha’s Vineyard, as well as setting processes in place to support such arrivals effectively, efficiently, and humanely.”
Dorcas International said it has been welcoming those seeking refuge to Rhode Island for more than 100 years. “This is what we do, and we stand ready to help any and all, regardless of where they came from or how they got here,” the group said.