THE VILLAGES, Fla. — In his first state press conference since announcing his presidential launch, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stayed unusually silent, taking no questions and offering no comment about the latest series of national headlines with his name written all over them.
“OK, everyone, everybody, we’ll be back soon,” he said as he walked away from the podium at a recreation center near The Villages, where he signed a bill aimed at restricting tech companies from collecting personal data on consumers.
At no point during his public appearance did the Governor address accusations that he was behind recent migrant flights to California.
Since Friday, about three dozen asylum-seeking migrants have arrived unannounced in California.
According to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the migrants, mostly men, were promised jobs and housing before they were lured from Texas onto private jets, ultimately landing in Sacramento on Friday and Monday morning.
Bonta said the individuals who landed had documents indicating their chartered travel was arranged by Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, the executor for Florida’s controversial multi-million-dollar migrant relocation program.
“Not one of these migrants is from Florida,” Bonta said. “This is Governor DeSantis reaching out into another state to try to create out of whole cloth some political points for himself,” Bonta told our Scripps partners in San Diego.
In an email to Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone after 5pm on Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson from Florida’s Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) finally acknowledged Florida’s involvement in the migrant flights to California for the first time.
In the email, FDEM’s Deputy Director of Communications & External Affairs Amelia Johnson wrote, “Florida's voluntary relocation is precisely that - voluntary. Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California. A contractor was present and ensured they made it safely to a 3rd-party NGO. The specific NGO, Catholic Charities, is used and funded by the federal government.”
But the fact that DeSantis has neither confirmed nor denied Florida’s involvement in the flights is a far cry from his posture nearly one year ago.
In September 2022, he slammed Joe Biden for open border policies. He proudly took credit for using state taxpayer money to fly dozens of Venezuelan men, women, and children from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a political symbol to sanctuary cities and blue states.
“What would be the best is for Biden to do his damn job and secure the border,” he told a crowd in Florida at the time.
Those flights to Martha’s Vineyard prompted several legal challenges, including an ongoing civil rights lawsuit.
On Monday, after news of the California flights spread, the Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff also announced he’s recommending criminal charges be filed against those involved in coordinating those flights.
According to the Bexar County District Attorney, the Sheriff’s complaint will now undergo a potentially lengthy review to determine if enough evidence exists to charge someone with a crime and convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed.
Following the migrant flights to California, some California politicians, along with several legal and migrant advocacy groups, are calling for similar actions over this latest round of migrant flights that neither Governor DeSantis nor members of his administration are publicly talking about.
“We know from Governor Ron DeSantis that everything he does has a political strategy, especially now that he's a full-blown candidate for president,” explained Florida-based political analyst Brian Crowley.
Crowley continued, “The very fact that Ron DeSantis is being silent about it now may be that, politically, he's having second thoughts or he's just waiting for a strategic moment to say I did it, I like it, and I’m going to do it again."