Two days after a group of 16 South American migrants arrived in Sacramento on a private plane from New Mexico, state officials confirmed that another group of approximately 20 migrants landed in Sacramento on Monday.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta says Florida appears to have coordinated the travel. The first group was dropped off outside the Catholic diocese in Sacramento. The Florida Division of Emergency Management and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has not confirmed Florida's involvement.
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, said Tara Gallegos, a spokesperson for California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Bonta says he's investigating whether any crimes were committed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom was quick to respond on Twitter, calling DeSantis a “small, pathetic man.”
“This isn't Martha's Vineyard,” Newsom tweeted, referring to an incident last summer in which DeSantis chartered a flight that brought some 50 confused migrants to the Massachusetts island widely known as a tony summer-vacation destination. “Kidnapping charges?”
The first group of migrants was dropped off at the Roman Catholic Church diocese's headquarters in Sacramento.
They carried documents that said they were transported through a program run by Florida's Division of Emergency Management and carried out by contractor Vertol Systems Co., Gallegos said. She said she couldn't share the documents because they are part of an active investigation.
Spokespeople for the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis have not confirmed Florida's involvement, and Vertol Systems didn't respond to requests for comment.
"While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice,” Bonta said in a statement. “It is immoral and disgusting,"
The migrants entered the U.S. through Texas. Eddie Carmona, campaign director at PICO California, a faith-based group that helps migrants, 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 outside a migrant center in El Paso, Texas, and offered to help them get jobs and get them to their final destinations.
"They were lied to and intentionally deceived," Carmona said, adding that the migrants had no idea where they were after being dropped off in Sacramento. 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.
Asylum-seekers can change the location of their court appearances, but many are reluctant to try and instead prefer sticking with a firm date, at least for their initial appearances. They figure it is a guarantee, even if horribly inconvenient.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run 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 migrants were transported to Democratic-led states.
He has made the migrant relocation program one of his signature political priorities, using the state legislative process to direct millions of dollars to it.
Florida paid Vertol Systems $1.56 million last year to fly migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and for a possible second flight to Delaware that never took place.
Monday’s flight, if proven to have been arranged by Florida, would intensify a prolonged political feud between DeSantis and California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom. The two have offered conflicting visions on immigration, abortion and a host of other issues.
Newsom said in a statement that he also met with migrants who had arrived on Friday and that officials were working to ensure that they are "treated with respect and dignity" through this process.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg issued a more forcefully worded statement: "Whoever is behind this must answer the following: Is there anything more cruel than using scared human beings to score cheap political points?"
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