SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The state of Florida picked up asylum seekers at the Texas border Monday and took them by private jet to the California capital at taxpayer expense for the second time in four days, California officials said. Migrants were misguided and caught shelters and aid workers by surprise.
Florida Gov. When Ron DeSantis and other state officials flew 49 Venezuelan immigrants to the upscale Massachusetts area of Martha’s Vineyard last year and whisked them away on private jets from a shelter in San Antonio, they were mummified.
As California Attorney General Rob Bonda investigated the influx of migrants, local officials and faith-based groups scrambled to provide housing, food and other resources for more than three dozen new arrivals. Many were from Colombia and Venezuela, and California was not their intended destination.
Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom blasted DeSantis as a “little, pathetic man” and suggested the state may pursue kidnapping charges.
The Texas Sheriff’s Office announced Monday that it has recommended criminal charges against two flights to Martha’s Vineyard after the migrants arrived in California. Last year.
Johnny Garcia, spokesman for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, said they are not naming the suspects at this time. It’s unclear whether the district attorney will pursue charges, which include misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful obstruction, the sheriff’s office said.
The Republican governors of Texas and Arizona have previously bused thousands of immigrants to New York, Chicago and Washington DC, but DeSantis’ rare charter flights signal an escalation in tactics. The two groups sent to Sacramento did not pass through Florida. Instead, they were approached in El Paso with documents linked to Florida, flown to New Mexico and then flown on private planes to California’s capital, California officials and prosecutors said.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, has been a vocal critic of federal immigration policy under President Joe Biden and has heavily publicized Florida’s role in past cases of migrants being transported to Democratic-led states.
He has made the immigrant relocation program one of his signature political priorities, channeling millions of dollars to it using the state legislative process and working with several contractors to implement the flights. Verdol Systems Co., Florida paid to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, which appears to be behind flights to Sacramento, California officials said. The company did not respond to an email seeking comment.
In Sacramento, Monday’s flight carrying about 20 migrants followed Friday’s arrival of 16 from Colombia and Venezuela. The new arrivals stayed at the airport for two hours and were fed before being taken to a “religious institution,” Sacramento County spokeswoman Kim Nava said. Nava said he did not know what country the new arrivals were from or where they wanted to go in the United States.
“Our county social workers are on the way, they’re going to evaluate everybody, make sure they’re getting the services and support they need,” Nava said.
The first group of immigrants dropped off at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Sacramento.
Speaking over the weekend about the first group that arrived in Sacramento, Eddie Carmona, campaign director for PICO California, a faith-based group that helps immigrants, said U.S. immigration officials have already vetted the young women and men and given them court dates. Asylum claims when “individuals representing a private contractor” approached them outside a migrant center in El Paso, Texas, offering to help them find work and take them to their final destinations.
“They were lied to and deliberately deceived,” Carmona said, adding that the migrants did not know where they were after being dropped off in Sacramento. He said there were court dates in cities across the country, and none of them ended up in California.
Asylum seekers can change the venue of their court appearance, but many are reluctant to try, preferring instead to stick with a fixed date, at least for their initial appearance. They think it’s a guarantee, even if it’s very inconvenient.
The office of New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not have any details on why the Texas migrants were being flown to California.
“Gov. Lujan Grisham reiterates the urgent need for comprehensive, thoughtful federal immigration reform, rooted in a humanitarian response that keeps border communities in mind,” Carolyn Sweeney, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Monday.
Last year, DeSantis directed Republican lawmakers in Florida to create a program in his office dedicated to immigrant relocations. It noted that the state can transport migrants from anywhere in the country. The law was designed to meet questions about the legality of carrying people on board that originated in Texas.
Florida’s role in the two groups’ presence in Sacramento is sure to heighten political animosity between DeSantis and Newsom, who have offered opposing views on immigration, abortion and other issues. ___
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Fla., Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed.
Find more AP coverage of immigration: https://apnews.com/hub/immigration