SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The state of Florida picked up asylum seekers Monday at the Texas border and flew them on a private jet to the California capital at taxpayer expense for the second time in four days, California officials said, prompting accusations that migrants were tricked and caught shelters and aid workers by surprise.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials were silent, as they initially did last year when they brought 49 Venezuelan immigrants to the luxury enclave of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, luring them onto private jets from a San Antonio shelter.
As California Attorney General Rob Bonta investigated the transportation of the migrants, local officials and religious groups sought to provide housing, food and other resources for the more than three dozen new arrivals. Many were from Colombia and Venezuela, and California had not been their intended destination.
Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom slammed DeSantis as a “pathetic little man” and suggested the state could file kidnapping charges.
And when the migrants arrived in California, the Texas sheriff’s office announced Monday that it recommended criminal charges for the two flights to Martha’s Vineyard. last year.
Johnny Garcia, a spokesman for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, said they are not naming suspects at this time. It’s unclear if the district attorney will pursue the charges, which include misdemeanor and felony unlawful restraint, according to the sheriff’s office.
Republican governors of Texas and Arizona previously sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, but DeSantis’s rare charter flights mark an escalation in tactics. The two groups sent to Sacramento never made it through Florida. Instead, they were boarded in El Paso by people with Florida-related documents, shipped to New Mexico and then boarded on private flights to the California capital, California officials and advocates said.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination 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 immigrants were transported to state-led states. by democrats.
He has made the migrant resettlement program one of his top political priorities, using the state legislative process to appropriate millions of dollars and working with multiple contractors to make the flights. Vertol Systems Co.., which was paid by Florida to take migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, appears to be behind the flights to Sacramento, California officials said. The company did not respond to an email seeking comment.
In Sacramento, the flight that arrived Monday with about 20 migrants followed the arrival Friday of another 16 from Colombia and Venezuela. The new arrivals stayed 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 did not know the nationalities of the new arrivals or where they intended to go in the US.
“Our county social workers are on the way and they will screen all of these people, make sure they have the services and support they need,” Nava said.
The first group of migrants was dropped off at the diocesan headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Sacramento.
Speaking over the weekend about the first group to arrive in Sacramento, Eddie Carmona, campaign manager for PICO California, a faith-based group that helps immigrants, said US immigration officials filed asylum cases when “Individuals representing a private contractor” approached them in front of a migrant center in El Paso, Texas, offering to help them get jobs and drive them to their final destinations.
“They were intentionally lied to and deceived,” Carmona said, adding that the migrants had no idea where they were after they were dropped off in Sacramento. He said they have court dates in cities across the country and none of them intended to end up in California.
Asylum seekers can change the location of their court appearances, but many are reluctant to try, preferring to stick to a set date, at least for their initial appearances. They think it’s a guarantee, even if it’s terribly inconvenient.
The office of Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not provide details about why the immigrants were taken from Texas to New Mexico before flying to California.
“Gov. Lujan Grisham emphasizes, once again, the urgent need for comprehensive and thoughtful federal immigration reform that is rooted in a humanitarian response that is sensitive to border communities,” the governor’s spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said Monday.
Last year, DeSantis ordered Florida Republican lawmakers to create a program in his office dedicated to immigrant resettlement. He specified that the state could transport migrants from anywhere in the country. The law was designed to circumvent questions about the legality of transporting people on a flight that originated in Texas.
Florida’s alleged role in bringing the two groups to Sacramento is sure to intensify the political spat between DeSantis and Newsom, who have offered conflicting views on immigration, abortion and a host of other issues. ___
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed.
Find more AP immigration coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/immigration