Gov. Ron DeSantis called it “absurd” for California Gov. Gavin Newsom to request a federal investigation into Florida directing flights of migrants last month from Texas to Sacramento.
Appearing this week on Fox Business, DeSantis defended Florida’s use of a taxpayer-funded program to transport migrants, while criticizing California as a “sanctuary” state.
“They're serving really as a magnet for people to cross our border illegally,” DeSantis said.
As he runs for the Republican presidential nomination, DeSantis has made President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration and the Southwest U.S. border a key campaign issue.
On the other hand, Newsom, a Democrat, has been critical of DeSantis on immigration and other issues, even traveling in April to New College of Florida, which has been at the forefront of DeSantis efforts to revamp higher education.
Newsom and California Attorney General Rob Bonta, also a Democrat, asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the June 2 and June 5 migrant flights to California.
Those flights followed Florida flying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last September. Meantime, critics have said DeSantis has used migrants as “pawns.”
Attorneys for some of the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard and the advocacy group Alianza Americas filed a potential class-action lawsuit, alleging the asylum seekers were “tricked” into going from Texas to Massachusetts.
The state's Division of Emergency Management has described Florida's migrant flights as "voluntary," pointing to a more than two-minute video posted on the social-media site Rumble that showed images of people filling out forms, listening to upbeat music in a stretch vehicle, walking across an airport tarmac and celebrating their arrival in California.
“Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California,” a news release from the division said. “A contractor was present and ensured they made it safely to a 3rd-party NGO (non-governmental organization). The specific NGO, Catholic Charities, is used and funded by the federal government.”
The video included a translation of a person addressing a group of migrants and asking if “at any point” they felt like they were “treated poorly.” The translated response was, “No. No. They treated us super well.”
The DeSantis administration also has pointed out migrant-relocation efforts by Texas, Arizona, New York City, Denver, Chicago and El Paso.
“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new,” the release said. “But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it's false imprisonment and kidnapping.”
The DeSantis administration spent $615,000 to pay Vertol Systems Company, Inc. to fly migrants Sept. 14 from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, with a brief stop in the Northwest Florida community of Crestview.
But with the flights facing a series of legal challenges, the Legislature on Feb. 10 passed a bill that repealed the section of the budget that was used to pay for the flights and created a new program, the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program, in state law. Lawmakers included $12 million in the current year’s state budget for the Department of Transportation to carry out a "program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state."
A legislative staff analysis reported $1.565 million had been spent out of the original $12 million, including the $615,000 for the Massachusetts flights. A state contract-tracking system showed that Vertol has been paid or has received purchase orders totaling $4.415 million.
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