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Newsom calls DeSantis ‘small, pathetic man’ over new migrant flights

Gov. Ron DeSantis has restarted controversial migrant flights to other states, according to California’s attorney general, but this time that state’s rival governor is threatening to slap Florida officials with kidnapping charges for doing it.

“Ron DeSantis, you small, pathetic man,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote in a tweet Monday, which included a link to the California statute on abduction by force or fraud. “This isn’t Martha’s Vineyard,” he added, comparing it with the September incident.

The flights are resuming just as DeSantis begins his campaign for the White House, which former GOP U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Florida, now an MSNBC news analyst, said was no coincidence.

The Republican governor “has shown us that he’s willing to take official actions from the governor’s office that ultimately are done to support his presidential ambitions,” said Jolly, a co-founder of the Forward Party. “And the migrant flights are a perfect example.”

Eight months after previous Florida-funded flights of 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts made national headlines, a similar flight sent 16 Venezuelan and Colombian migrants from New Mexico to Sacramento, California, on Friday.

On Monday, a second flight from New Mexico with about 20 Venezuelan migrants landed in Sacramento, the New York Times reported.

For the first flight, the migrants were approached in Texas, this time in El Paso, by people offering jobs. They were flown out of nearby New Mexico and dropped off in Sacramento outside a Catholic church, while those arriving on the Monday flight were taken to meet with Newsom at the airport, according to the Times.

Eddie Carmona of PICO California, a faith-based group helping the migrants, told the Associated Press the first group did not know they were being taken to Sacramento and arrived with few belongings.

Carmona said U.S. immigration officials had already processed the young women and men and given them court dates for their asylum cases when “individuals representing a private contractor” approached them and offered to help them get jobs and get them to their final destinations.

“They were lied to and intentionally deceived,” Carmona said. He said they have court dates in cities throughout the country, not only in Texas, and that none of them meant to end up in California.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the migrants on the initial flight were carrying documents showing it was arranged by the Florida Department of Emergency Management and carried out by Vertol Systems, the same company behind the Martha’s Vineyard flights.

It’s not clear what countries the latest group of arrivals are from, but their travel appears to have been arranged by the same company, Tara Gallegos, a spokesperson for  Bonta, told the AP.

No agency or group had yet taken responsibility, and DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern did not respond to a request for comment. The emergency management agency acknowledged a reporter’s request for state contracts with flight operators but did not provide additional comment.

Florida lawmakers back flights

But if Florida officials were behind them, they had the full backing of Florida’s Legislature, which funded a $10 million “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program” to fly migrants from anywhere in the nation to places Republicans consider “sanctuary” states.

That was on top of $12 million allocated in 2022 for the Florida Department of Transportation to carry out a “program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.”

The legality of flying out migrants from Texas and other states, not Florida, was retroactively approved by the Legislature as well.

Bonta called the latest flight a “political stunt,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle, adding that he’s investigating DeSantis and the state of Florida and is “prepared to bring civil and criminal action if the facts and the law support it.”

As they did after the September flights, Florida Democrats blasted the move.

“The continuation of racially profiling people and using state dollars to traffic them, especially those that are just trying to seek a better life in our free country, is wrong,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “It’s un-American, and it’s also an antithesis to what I thought Republican values were.”

Migrants at the Sacramento Executive Airport, Calif., on June 5, 2023. Eighteen migrants, who said they were mainly from Venezuela, arrived on Monday, June 5, 2023, from the same airport in New Mexico where another planeload had taken off Friday. (Andri Tambunan/The New York Times)
Migrants at the Sacramento Executive Airport, Calif., on June 5, 2023. About 20 migrants, who said they were mainly from Venezuela, arrived on Monday, June 5, 2023, the second migrant flight in three days. (Andri Tambunan/The New York Times)

Legal troubles in September

California’s investigation will be just the latest legal entanglement for Florida over migrant flights.

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by state Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, over the legality of the two flights from San Antonio to Massachusetts. But the state still faces a criminal investigation by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department over the September flights, which originated in San Antonio.

Another flight from Texas that apparently was headed to near President Biden’s beach house was scrapped after Bexar’s probe was announced, state records revealed.

Vertol, an airline charter company with ties to Florida Public Safety Czar Larry Keefe, was paid nearly $1.6 million in taxpayer dollars in September.

Keefe had a hands-on role in the flights, with text messages suggesting he was on the ground in San Antonio well in advance of takeoff.

DeSantis has vocally defended the state’s actions in sending the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, as well as similar flights initiated by the state of Texas.

“We have elites in this country that want to impose policies on you, but they don’t want to have to suffer the same consequences that you may have to in your community,” DeSantis said during an October gubernatorial debate. “Well, we did. It’s sad that it comes to this. But what we did put this issue front and center.”

But DeSantis also exaggerated the reaction on the island.

“Martha’s Vineyard advertises itself as being a sanctuary jurisdiction,” DeSantis said in a November campaign event in Oviedo. “They virtue signal, they had politicians saying, they have a Social Services office there [where] everybody is welcome. Refugees, everybody can come to Martha’s Vineyard. … But then when they had 50 come, what did they do? They declared a state of emergency, they got the National Guard out to deport them off the island the next day.

But many locals, much of whom were tourism workers and year-round residents following the summer season, helped to assist the migrants and an Episcopal Church there took some of them in.

It was Republican Gov. Charlie Baker who ordered the state National Guard to relocate the migrants off the island to a military base on nearby Cape Cod.

“He likes to say this is about testing the liberals’ conviction about supporting migrants, but what he’s really doing is disrupting families in one of their greatest times of need,” Jolly said.

Venezuelans are targeted

The flights have also targeted Venezuelans, a group that has been courted by Florida Republicans as refugees from the socialist regime of Nicolás Maduro.

“It’s just another example of empty rhetoric by the right,” Eskamani said. “They say they want to defend democracy, support those fleeing communism, that they welcome those that are following the legal procedures when it comes to immigration. This is the opposite. It is a legal right to seek asylum at our border.”

Jolly said the migrant flights will probably become a routine occurrence.

“Instead of empowering these migrant communities, he’s humiliated them,” Jolly said. “And it’s a shame, but I think we’re going to continue to see this. The reason the Legislature gave him the authority and the money is because they support him doing it. And I think he’ll continue to do so.”

Source: Orange County Register

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