Florida officials mum as second migrant flight arrives in Sacramento

florida officials mum as second migrant flight arrives in sacramento

“[Ron DeSantis] you small, pathetic man,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote in a tweet Monday.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A second plane full of migrants from the Texas border landed in Sacramento on Monday, leading California officials to escalate allegations that the DeSantis administration has resumed its controversial relocation program.

Although the flights are receiving national attention, Florida officials, by and large, are staying silent about any potential involvement while Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

That silence, though, has not stopped California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from attacking DeSantis about the flights. The recent round of transports to Sacramento are similar to the ones the DeSantis administration facilitated last fall to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

California officials are investigating the flights and have suggested that Florida officials could be involved in kidnapping.

“[Ron DeSantis] you small, pathetic man,” Newsom wrote in a tweet Monday. “This isn’t Martha’s Vineyard. Kidnapping charges?” Newsom also posted to Twitter a snippet of California’s criminal code, which states anyone who transports someone by fraud to the state is guilty of kidnapping.

The flight carrying some 20 people landed at a small Sacramento airport around lunchtime Monday, marking the second time the same plane touched down in California carrying migrants since Friday, according to officials with the California attorney general’s office. California authorities said the Monday flight was likely orchestrated by Vertol Systems Incorporated, the same company that carried out the trip to Sacramento last week and the one last year to Martha’s Vineyard.

With both California flights, the migrants arrived toting documents pointing to Florida’s involvement in the cross-country trips, state officials said.

Officials with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the state agency responsible for overseeing the relocation program, have not responded to questions about the latest flights and the DeSantis administration has also been silent since the migrants landed in California. Vertol Systems has not yet responded to requests for comment.

The most recent flight to Sacramento landed on the same day a sheriff’s office in Texas recommended charges be brought in connection with the migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office stated Monday that it completed its criminal case into the flights and the county district attorney is reviewing the case. The prosecutor will be responsible for pressing charges, if appropriate. The investigation was announced last year by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, an elected Democrat.

One migrant who landed in California Monday told the New York Times that he was approached in El Paso by two men and two women offering a trip to California and connections for work. Wilkendri Rodriguez, 23, said he agreed after surviving the harrowing trek to Texas from Venezuela, where he was supposedly extorted by criminals. The group allegedly traveled from El Paso through New Mexico until eventually reaching Sacramento.

“I don’t know what is their motivation to organize these trips,” Rodriguez told the New York Times in Spanish. “I don’t know if it’s political, or part of the government. They didn’t tell us anything. At the hotel, they would tell us, if you want to go, go, or stay. Nobody is being obligated. And here we are.”

In the face of critics, DeSantis has maintained that Florida’s controversial migrant flights are a way to protest the “open border” immigration policies of President Joe Biden. Frequent political adversaries, DeSantis and the Biden administration are currently entangled in a legal battle as Florida claims the feds are ignoring federal immigration laws.

DeSantis is one of several governors or city leaders who have transported migrants alongside Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, who bused thousands of migrants from his state to Democrat-led cities like Washington, D.C., Chicago and NYC, and New York Mayor Eric Adams, who also transported migrants outside of his city.

But DeSantis is also armed with millions of dollars in state cash to shuttle migrants who never stepped foot in Florida. The state’s GOP-controlled Legislature in 2022 gave DeSantis $12 million to operate the migrant relocation program and another $12 million this year in the Legislature’s latest immigration bill.

State records suggested that the company that operated the first round of flights was paid $1.56 million for the work. Although more flights were planned, the Martha’s Vineyard flights were the only ones to reach their destination, leaving most of the relocation money banked.

Democrats attempted to draw attention to the cost of the program Monday while continuing to bash the DeSantis administration on immigration. They claimed the flights, although not confirmed to be led by Florida, are “presidential campaign stunts.”

“These migrant flights are borderline human trafficking, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves,” Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried said in a statement. “Vulnerable people are being coerced and deceived into these programs without knowing there’s no plan on how to care for them. It’s cruel and inhumane.”

Lara Korte and Gary Fineout contributed to this report.

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