During a roundtable discussion on illegal immigration Wednesday in Arizona, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis finally broke his silence about the recent migrant flights to California that Florida paid for.
"If there's a policy to have an open border, then I think sanctuary cities should be the ones to deal with it," DeSantis, also running for the Republican nomination for U.S. President, said during a Q&A session following the roundtable.
The roundtable discussion with top law enforcement leaders in states along the Southwest border is part of an effort to build a stronger coalition of like-minded conservative law enforcement leaders and politicians who believe President Joe Biden's open border policies are failing to control the influx of immigrants into the U.S illegally.
While DeSantis did not address the California flights during his roundtable discussion, when asked about the flights by reporters, he seemed to suggest the flights were at the request of Texas officials.
"When the sheriff asks for our support in Texas, we view it as an American problem. We don't view it as a Texas problem; we think we're all in this together, and we will send our resources to help," DeSantis said.
After days of silence, Florida finally claimed responsibility Tuesday evening for two private flights that, since Friday, have flown roughly three dozen asylum-seeking migrants from New Mexico to Sacramento as part of Florida's controversial migrant relocation program.
Video and pictures released late Tuesday afternoon by Florida's Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) show some migrants. A spokesperson from FDEM stated that all the migrants who agreed to go volunteered to be transported and "wanted to go to California."
Some individuals in the video and pictures released by FDEM are seen waving, smiling, and expressing thanks.
The surprise landings sparked outrage among California politicians, including its Attorney General, who is now investigating the flights for potential civil or criminal wrongdoing.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said some of the migrants said they consented after being falsely promised that jobs and assistance would be available to them once they landed in California.
"It's a silly, cruel, inhumane disgusting political stunt," Bonta has said about the flights and Florida's involvement. "Not one of these migrants is from Florida," Bonta said.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a legal advocacy group suing Governor DeSantis and others over last year's migrant flights to Martha's Vineyard, are also investigating the conditions and circumstances surrounding how and why people boarded the private jets.
The group also focuses on whether the migrants fully understood what they were signing up for before they consented to board the flights. Florida officials maintain all the migrants who boarded did it voluntarily and provided either verbal or written consent.
"Florida officials said the same thing about the Martha's Vineyard flights, and that turned out to be completely false," said the group's Litigation Director, Oren Sellstrom.
But Florida is already playing defense. In its only email taking responsibility for the flights, a spokesperson from FDEM stated, "The relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new. But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it's false imprisonment and kidnapping," she said.
According to FDEM, the migrants were also accompanied by a contractor. While FDEM has not named the contractor, California's Attorney General has identified the contractor as Vertol Systems, the same Florida-based aviation group hired by Florida last year to fly nearly fifty migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard.
In a newly signed state contract for migrant relocation services this year, Vertol cites its $1.3 million Martha's Vineyard migrant operation as part of its listed experience.
The state contract ends in two years and lists Vertol's scope of work for Florida as planning, arranging, and executing all parts of transporting migrants to other parts of the U.S.
But the contract doesn't include an overall price tag. The only listed price is for a "Stage one Development Phase," which lists a lump sum of $487,000.
There's little doubt the total costs of these flights to California will be much more.
This past session, Florida's GOP majority legislature approved 12 million dollars to continue the state's migrant relocation program for a second year.