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Florida acknowledges it transported migrants from Texas to California



A Florida emergency management official confirmed Tuesday that the state had transported migrants from Texas to Sacramento in recent days, defending the controversial flights as voluntary even as California investigators considered whether the movements broke the law.

“Florida’s voluntary relocation is precisely that — voluntary,” Alecia Collins, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, said in a statement released Tuesday to The Washington Post. “Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California. A contractor was present and ensured they made it safely.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in an interview Tuesday that some of the 36 migrants told investigators they had been recruited with promises of employment and didn’t know they were going to California until they arrived in Sacramento, “dumped and deserted.” Some have asylum hearings scheduled in Chicago, Denver and New York City, he said.

“They were moved as political pawns,” Bonta told The Post, dismissing Collins’s statement as “propaganda.”

The migrants were picked up outside a shelter in El Paso and other nearby sites, driven across the border to Las Cruces, N.M., and flown by private jet to Sacramento, according to Bonta. He said he is investigating whether those involved in the transport violated laws against false imprisonment or kidnapping. One flight landed Friday and the second on Monday.

The movement of the migrants by Florida followed its decision last year to transport 49 migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, the tony resort off the coast of another Democratic state, Massachusetts. And it has revived a battle between Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.


DeSantis, who is now running for president, has not commented on the California flights. Newsom used them to belittle his counterpart.

“Kidnapping charges?” Newsom posted on Twitter, calling DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” and including a link to California’s kidnapping law.

Collins’s admission marked the first time Florida had acknowledged its role in the California flights. She said a contractor dropped the migrants off at Catholic Charities in Sacramento, which “is used and funded by the federal government.” (A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento said the 36 asylum seekers were dropped at the diocese office, not at Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities did not respond to a request for comment.)

Collins defended the state’s migrant transportation program, saying that “from left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, 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.”

Collins also released an edited video purporting to show the migrants, in which they were seen boarding planes and signing forms. None of those featured in the video identified themselves, the forms were not readable and the video could not be independently verified.

Gabby Trejo, the executive director of Sacramento ACT, which has been helping the migrants, said at a briefing Tuesday that they had been “lied to and deceived,” including with false promises of jobs and housing, and “didn’t know where they were going to land.”

“They are trying way too hard to demonstrate that [the migrants] came to California voluntarily,” Bonta said, referring to Florida officials. “You cannot have consent to travel if it’s based on deception.”


Of the 36 asylum seekers, four were from Colombia, one each from Mexico and Nicaragua and the rest from Venezuela, Bonta said. Many had spent several months traveling north, sometimes sleeping on the streets, fleeing violence and persecution, he said. He interviewed some who arrived Friday and said he has seen documents that they were required to sign: “releases, waivers and consent forms.”

“I don’t think they fully understood them, perhaps didn’t understand them at all,” Bonta said, calling the forms “part of what the state of Florida is trying to do to make their case and create an appearance of voluntariness.”

The flights to Sacramento used at least one of the same companies, Vertol Systems, as had flown migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Bonta said.

Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard have sued DeSantis, Vertol and a recruiter in federal court in Massachusetts, arguing they were tricked onto the planes, according to Lawyers for Civil Rights, the Boston-based legal group representing them. DeSantis’s attorneys dispute those claims and have tried to get the case dismissed or transferred to Florida — so far, unsuccessfully — arguing the Boston court lacks jurisdiction.

Attorneys representing migrants in that class-action lawsuit visited Sacramento on Tuesday to meet with some of the new arrivals and investigate whether they qualified to join the lawsuit, said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights.

On Monday, the sheriff in San Antonio’s Bexar County recommended that the local district attorney file criminal charges following an investigation into the Martha’s Vineyard flights. It is not clear whom the charges would be filed against, but the case would include both felony and misdemeanor charges of unlawful restraint, the sheriff’s office said.

“The complaint will undergo our normal and meticulous intake review. The process of determining whether enough evidence exists to charge anyone with a crime … may be lengthy and labor-intensive under the best of circumstances,” District Attorney Joe Gonzales said in a statement Tuesday. “If a review of the facts reveal that a felony offense has been committed, we will present that case to a grand jury for their deliberation.”


The flights borrowed a strategy from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who last year began chartering buses of migrants from Texas to Washington and other cities, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Denver, according to a recent statement from his office. One busload was dropped off outside the home of Vice President Harris on Christmas Eve. The state-sponsored buses have transported more than 19,000 migrants, Abbott’s office said.

DeSantis has sent teams to Texas to assist with border enforcement, announcing Tuesday that state law enforcement officials have made contact with more than 5,800 migrants and assisted with more than 190 arrests.

The GOP-led Florida state legislature gave DeSantis $12 million earlier this year for an “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program.” That move came after controversy over last year’s flights, which many state legislators said were an illegal use of state funds. The state paid Vertol $1.6 million for the Martha’s Vineyard flights — about $45,000 per migrant flown to Massachusetts.

Source: Washington Post

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