SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California leaders lashed out at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and hinted at a criminal investigation Monday over the arrival of two flights of migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas and then were sent to Sacramento, allegedly at the direction of Florida officials.
The flight that arrived Monday with about 20 migrants followed the arrival Friday of 16 others from Colombia and Venezuela who had been taken by van from Texas to New Mexico and then put on a chartered plane to a small airport in the California capital, officials said. They are the latest apparent instances of a Republican-led state transporting migrants to one controlled by Democrats.
The newest arrivals remained at the airport for a couple of hours and were fed before being transported to a “religious institution,” said Kim Nava, a Sacramento County spokeswoman. Nava said she didn’t know the nationalities of the new arrivals or where they had intended to go in the U.S.
“Our county social workers are en route and are going to assess all those folks, make sure they have the services and support that they need,” Nava said.
The group’s travel appears to have been arranged Vertol Systems Co., a Florida-based aviation company hired by Florida’s government to help transport migrants, said Tara Gallegos, a spokeswoman for Bonta. Bonta says he’s investigating whether any crimes were committed. His office declined to share the documents because they are part of an investigation.
California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” in a tweet and suggested that California could pursue kidnapping charges against him. The flights, if proven to have been arranged by Florida, would intensify a prolonged political feud between the two governors, who have offered conflicting visions on immigration, abortion and a host of other issues.
Spokespeople for the Florida emergency management agency and DeSantis have not confirmed Florida’s involvement, and Vertol Systems didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The first group of migrants was dropped off at the Roman Catholic Church diocese’s headquarters in Sacramento.
Speaking over the weekend about the first group to arrive in Sacramento, Eddie Carmona, campaign director at PICO California, a faith-based group that helps migrants, said U.S. immigration officials had already processed the young women and men and given them court dates for their asylum cases when “individuals representing a private contractor” approached them outside a migrant center in El Paso, Texas, and offered to help them get jobs and get them to their final destinations.
“They were lied to and intentionally deceived,” Carmona said, adding that the migrants had no idea where they were after being dropped off in Sacramento. He said they have court dates in cities throughout the country and that none of them meant to end up in California.
Asylum seekers can change the location of their court appearances, but many are reluctant to try and instead prefer sticking with a firm date, at least for their initial appearances. They figure it is a guarantee, even if horribly inconvenient.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run for president, has been a fierce critic of federal immigration policy under President Joe Biden and has heavily publicized Florida’s role in past instances in which migrants were transported to Democratic-led states.
He has made the migrant relocation program one of his signature political priorities, using the state legislative process to direct millions of dollars to it.
Florida paid Vertol Systems $1.56 million last year to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and for a possible second flight to Delaware that never took place. The Republican governors of Texas and Arizona have previously sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., but the rare charter flights are an escalation in tactics.
Before the flight from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last year, DeSantis signed off on a Republican-backed budget that earmarked $12 million to relocate people in the country illegally from Florida to other locations.
When questions arose around the legality of the Martha’s Vineyard fight because it originated in Texas, not Florida, in apparent violation of budgetary language, DeSantis had Republicans legislators create a program in his office dedicated to migrant relocations and specify that the state can transport migrants from locations anywhere in the country. Vertol Systems Co. was one of three vendors selected by DeSantis’ administration to carry out the program.
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