In a stunning revelation, California Attorney General Rob Bonta has announced that a group of South American migrants arrived in Sacramento, California, reportedly arranged for by the state of Florida. Bonta has stated that his office is currently investigating whether any crimes had been committed in this process.
The migrants, consisting of 16 Colombians and Venezuelans, turned up at the Roman Catholic Church diocese’s headquarters in Sacramento on Friday. They had documentation that seemed to have been issued by Florida, according to the attorney general. The young men and women had already been processed by U.S. immigration officials and given court dates for their asylum cases when individuals representing a private contractor approached them outside a migrant center in El Paso, Texas and offered to take them to their intended destinations while also helping them find jobs.
However, the migrants had no idea where they were when they were dropped off in Sacramento. “They were lied to and intentionally deceived,” said Eddie Carmona, campaign director at PICO California, a faith-based group that helps migrants. Carmona added that the migrants had court dates throughout the country and that none of them intended to end up in California.
The newly arrived migrants’ documents revealed that they were transported to California through a program run by Florida’s Division of Emergency Management and facilitated by contractor Vertol Systems Co., according to Tara Gallegos, a spokesperson for Bonta. Florida paid the same contractor $1.56 million last year to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, according to reporting from the Associated Press.
“State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting,” Bonta denounced in a statement. This issue highlights the political divide between Republican and Democratic states. Republican governors of Texas and Arizona have also previously transported thousands of migrants to Democratic-run cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., but the charter flight signals an escalation.
If Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was involved in this latest instance, it would signal and intensifying and prolonged political feud with California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, has been critical of federal immigration policy under President Joe Biden. Though he has heavily publicized Florida’s role in past instances in which migrants were transported to Democratic-led states, neither Vertol Systems nor DeSantis’ office responded to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which oversees Florida’s migrant flights program, said in an email Monday that she could not immediately confirm whether the agency was involved in transporting migrants to California. Newsom also released a statement saying that he had met with the migrants and that officials were working to ensure that they were “treated with respect and dignity.”
This is the latest controversy in an ongoing debate over U.S. immigration policy, with many opposing the use of state-funded efforts to relocate migrants from Republican to Democratic-led states. Bonta made it clear that California would be following up with a thorough investigation to determine whether there were any crimes committed.