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By Melissa Alonso, Nouran Salahieh, Isabel Rosales and Jaide García, CNN
(CNN) An investigation is underway after more than a dozen migrants arrived in Sacramento, California, on a private jet “without any prior arrangements or attention,” Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta said Saturday.
California officials met Saturday with the group, which had documentation “purporting to be from the government of the state of Florida,” Bonta said.
The immigrants were flown from Texas to New Mexico, then flown by private plane to California, where they were “abandoned at the door of a local church without notice,” Newsom said in a statement.
The state attorney general is investigating the incident and “evaluating possible criminal or civil actions against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants,” Bonta said in a statement.
According to the governor, the circumstances surrounding who paid for the group’s trip and whether the migrants were deceived with false promises will be investigated.
CNN has reached out to state officials in Texas and Florida for comment.
Immigrants were promised ‘jobs’ and ‘free support,’ says nonprofit
Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT), a nonprofit group of local religious congregations, says 16 immigrants from Venezuela and Colombia were dropped off on a private plane at a Sacramento airport and taken by bus to the main office of the Diocese of Sacramento in California, where they were dropped off.
ACT says it is helping the migrants, who had been in El Paso, Texas. They were approached at a migrant center there by “individuals representing a private contractor who told them they would help them get to a migrant center that would provide free work and other support,” according to ACT.
The migrants are men and women between the ages of 20 and 30, said Cecilia Flores, a spokeswoman for ACT. She said they didn’t know each other before they were “recruited.”
They told Flores that two people approached them outside a migrant center in El Paso and said they could help them if they were willing to travel to a migrant center. They were told that they would not have to pay anything, Flores said, and when they arrived at the shelter, the people said that the migrants “could receive employment assistance, work, clothing and shelter.”
They were flown to New Mexico, where they stayed overnight in a hotel Thursday, and were flown by private plane to Sacramento Friday morning. Arriving at the airport, they were taken by bus to the church office.
Once they were dropped off, the driver rang the building’s bell and told the group they would be right back, but “the bus drove away and they never came back,” Flores told CNN. One of the migrants told Flores that they tried to contact the driver through a contact number they were given, but the driver’s cell phone no longer worked.
They were “shaken up” after being dropped off at the diocese, he said.
“They started asking: ‘What city is this? What state are we in?’” Flores said, adding that they only had their backpacks and the clothes they were wearing. “A lot of them didn’t know Sacramento was in California,” he said, “I think they just said, ‘We’ll take you to this shelter where they can help you.’ I’m not sure if they knew how far they would travel.”
“They were given false promises and transported to a place they didn’t know and really just abandoned them,” Flores said, adding that she was shocked by the “lack of humanity and the way they have not been treated with care and have been treated lied”.
“I am saddened by what has recently occurred with the deceptive rendition of our undocumented brothers and sisters in the Sacramento area,” said the Rev. Efrem Smith, president of the Sacramento ACT, in a statement. “This act of political polarization is heartbreaking, and yet I rejoice to be part of a movement that brings God’s love and goodwill over the injustices and political wrongdoing that affects our vulnerable brothers and sisters.”
Rabbi Mona Alfi of the B’nai Israel Congregation responded to the situation by saying: “Bringing people from one state to another under deceit and political malice is a moral travesty. These are human beings, no different than you or me, who just want to take care of their families and live a peaceful life, and they deserve to be treated better.”
Similar to previous incidents
It is not the first time that a plane with migrants arrives without prior notice in a Democratic state. Late last year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent two planes carrying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Republican governors and local officials in southern states have also brought migrants to New York and other more liberal cities amid a humanitarian crisis on the southern border of the United States.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a legal team representing immigrants transported to Martha’s Vineyard, has been deployed to offer legal assistance to those in Sacramento, the group said in a news release Monday. Like their clients on Martha’s Vineyard, the group said the “migrants were simply dumped outside a church in Sacramento.”
“We are investigating this latest incident to determine if… these most recent migrants were lied to and misled into travel,” the statement said.
Many of those heading to the US make long and dangerous journeys in the hope of finding a better and safer life for their families. People migrate to flee violence, for economic opportunities or to reunite with family, experts say.
“California and the Sacramento community will welcome these individuals with open arms and provide them with the respect, compassion and care they will need after such a harrowing experience,” Bonta said.
The state is working with the Sacramento mayor’s office and local groups to make sure migrants “are treated with respect and dignity and arrive at their intended destination while they process their immigration cases,” Newsom said.
Bonta said that the state will “continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: state-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy option, it is immoral and disgusting.
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