Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has taken responsibility for a pair of flights transporting migrants from the southern border to Sacramento, confirming the state’s role in the stunts and deepening an ongoing, vitriolic fight with California officials, who have denounced the transports and accused Sunshine State officials of potentially committing a crime.
The public battle comes as DeSantis begins in earnest his 2024 presidential campaign, during which he has positioned immigration as a core issue of his platform.
Two private flights – one on Friday and one on Monday – arrived in Sacramento carrying asylum-seekers from South America. California officials say the migrants had been picked up in El Paso, taken to New Mexico, and put on a flight to the California capital, accusing Florida of organizing and funding the transports with the help of a contractor.
On Tuesday, the DeSantis administration confirmed that allegation, arguing that the migrants signed waivers and went willingly. Florida’s emergency management agency disseminated a video to several news outlets that appeared to show migrants signing waivers, sitting on a party bus, and arriving in California, confirming that they were treated well. The video is composed of short clips and contains no additional details aside from the footage.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said previously that he spoke with the migrants, some of whom they say were promised jobs – raising questions about whether they were transported under false pretenses.
“We are investigating the circumstances by which these individuals were brought to California. We are also evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants,” Bonta said in a statement Friday after the first flight of migrants appeared in Sacramento.
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“While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting,” he said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat and frequent target of DeSantis and other Republicans, said in a press release over the weekend that he was “working with the California Department of Justice to investigate the circumstances around who paid for the group’s travel and whether the individuals orchestrating this trip misled anyone with false promises or have violated any criminal laws, including kidnapping.”
He then went further, calling DeSantis a “small, pathetic” man.
“Kidnapping charges?” He tweeted Monday, along with a screenshot of the relevant state criminal statute.
And Newsom doubled down on his criticism in an interview that is set to air Thursday morning on MSNBC.
“We mean business, and we’re not backing away from getting the facts and holding those accountable if they broke the laws of the state of California,” Newsom said in a clip of the pre-taped interview. released by the news network.
Florida’s move appears to target so-called sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Sacramento has sanctuary policies in place.
Regardless of the criminality – or not – of the move, both Newsom and Bonta have slammed DeSantis for what they describe as a political stunt.
“Human beings used as pawns for a guy’s political advancement. That’s pretty sad and pathetic,” Newsom said in another clip released by MSNBC.
“It’s a political stunt. It’s cheap, it’s cruel, and it’s on the backs of human beings,” Bonta said of the act during an interview with CNN Tuesday.
It’s not the first time that Florida has transported migrants to other states without prior permission or arrangement.
Last fall, Florida flew 49 migrants, most of whom were Venezuelan, from San Antonio, Texas, to upscale Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts. The migrants said a woman promised them jobs and housing if they boarded the plane. Martha’s vineyard, however, had no advance notice of their arrival. The move prompted considerable outcry, including from some within DeSantis’ own party.
And on Tuesday, amid the fight with California, a sheriff’s office in San Antonio initiated criminal cases connected to the Martha’s Vineyard flight.
“The charge filed is unlawful restraint and several accounts were filed, both misdemeanor and felony,” the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to a local news station. The county’s district attorney is now reviewing the case.
Despite the controversy, the flights may not stop.
In May, DeSantis signed a controversial immigration law that, among other things, allocated $12 million of the state budget to “relocate illegal immigrants to sanctuary jurisdictions.”