Nine months ago, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took credit for transporting nearly 50 Venezuelan men, women, and children from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. The controversial but months-long coordinated effort was part of a symbolic move by conservative governors to bring the issue of illegal immigration to the literal doorstep of sanctuary cities in blue states.
Now, California’s top lawyer is calling out DeSantis and his administration for doing it again after dozens of migrants showed up unexpectedly in Sacramento on Friday and again, on Monday morning.
“This is Governor DeSantis and the state of Florida,” Attorney General Rob Bonta told our partners at Scripps News over the weekend about the latest migrant flights.
“This is his cruel, inhumane political stunt, manipulating human beings, people, for whatever cheap political points he wants to get in his run for presidency,” Bonta said.
According to California’s Attorney General, 16 asylum-seeking migrants he described as mostly men in their twenties and thirties and originally from Venezuela and Columbia were recruited in Texas with the promise of jobs.
Bonta said they were then bussed to New Mexico before boarding a private plane to Sacramento on Friday, where they were discovered on the doorstep of a local church. On Monday, his office announced a second flight had arrived in Sacramento with approximately 20 migrants on board.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a legal advocacy group suing Governor DeSantis and others involved in last year’s flights to Martha’s Vineyard, are now looking into adding these latest migrants in California to the suit.
“Reports have some of the same kinds of misrepresentations that we heard from our Martha’s Vineyard clients,” explained litigation director Oren Sellstrom. “The promises of jobs, promises of housing if people boarded these flights. If that turns out to be the case, that would be extremely troubling,” he said.
As of late Monday afternoon, neither Governor DeSantis nor anyone in his administration had confirmed or denied its involvement in the California flights.
DeSantis has made cracking down on illegal immigration a main point of his governorship and his recent run for the Republican nomination for President.
“This is the responsibility of Joe Biden,” DeSantis recently said about America’s illegal immigration crisis.
Last year, Florida allocated ten million dollars for a new program called the migrant relocation program. As part of that funding, the state paid Florida-based aviation company Vertol Systems Inc. just over $1.5 million for the flights to Martha’s Vineyard and another flight that was scheduled to arrive in Biden’s hometown of Delaware but that flight never happened.
California’s Attorney General said Vertol Systems Inc. was also involved in the recent migrant flights to California. Vertol is one of three transportation companies state records show Florida is intending to contract with for its relocation program for the upcoming year. ARS Global Emergency Management is another.
In an email on Monday, a company representative told us, ““ARS Global Emergency Management is pleased to have been selected as one of the contractors for The Migrant Relocation Program by The Florida Division of Emergency Management. Our team possesses the skills and expertise necessary to carry out the schedule of work under this contract with compassion, professionalism, and expediency. As a matter of policy, we do not comment on the specifics or details of active contracts.”
Last year, the legislature funded $10 million for the program. This past session, Florida’s GOP-led legislature approved an additional $12 million.
Republicans call the state’s efforts to combat illegal immigration through efforts including the migrant relocation program as necessary.
“Hopefully, we force the federal government to do something about open borders and force the federal government to do something because that’s what is sorely needed,” said Republican Senator Blaise Ingoglia, who helped sponsor the state’s latest immigration bill.
Meanwhile, Democrats call it cruel.
“I can't say I’m surprised by this,” said Representative Anna Eskamani in response to the California flights. Eskamani is Democrat who represents Orlando and is a staunch critic of Governor DeSantis.
“I'm obviously incredibly disappointed and just grossed out by it because immigration is a serious policy issue in our country and immigrants are also the backbone of our country. We should not isolate and demonize and continue to use immigrants as political pawns,” she said.