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As Florida Republicans Panic Over Fallout of Anti-Immigrant Bill, DeSantis Is Apparently Back To Luring Vulnerable Migrants Onto Private Flights

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Late last week in California, a group of 16 Venezuelan and Colombian migrants were dumped outside the door of a Sacramento church, after they were apparently transported to the state on a private flight after being cajoled with promises of work and other assistance. But those promises turned out to be lies. When a door at the Roman Catholic Diocese opened, the two men who transported the migrants drove off, leaving the group empty-handed. Since then, a second flight has arrived to Sacramento. 

If this sounds like the cruel, political stunt last year where migrants were used as human props and tricked onto flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, that’s because the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis again appears to be the culprit, California officials said. 

“The documents appear to show that the flight was arranged through the Florida Division of Emergency Management and that it was part of the state’s program to relocate migrants, mostly from Texas, to other states, Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said,” the Los Angeles Times reported. A statement from his office said officials confirmed “these individuals were in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida.”  

Both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times report that like the Martha’s Vineyard stunt, the migrants were originally lured in Texas. While the Los Angeles Times says that migrants were promised help with finding work, The New York Times reports migrants were also promised “shelter, clothing and other necessities” in addition to jobs. The same private contractor used by Florida during the Martha’s Vineyard operation, Vertol Systems Co., again transported migrants out of the state. Bonta said that before leaving, migrants were also told to sign forms they didn’t understand. 

“The waivers, which echo documents carried by migrants in previous transport cases, did not mention jobs, he said, and released Florida and Vertol of any liability,” The New York Times said.

Bonta appeared confident that the trail leads back to Florida. “This is Gov. DeSantis, this is his baby, this is his project, his fingerprints are all over it,” Bonta told the Los Angeles Times. “The governor signed it, the Legislature approved to fund it in the budget, and they hired Vertol Systems Co., a vendor, to carry out the work.” Part of the costly and cruel anti-immigrant package passed by the state legislature and signed into law by DeSantis includes an additional $12 million to transport migrants. Meanwhile, Floridians struggling with incomplete home repairs under a state-run hurricane recovery program are on their own.

Vertol initially aided in DeSantis’ political stunt last year luring migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, along with the help of shady recruiter Perla Huerta. Judd Legum of Popular Information reported at the time that migrants were given a brochure “crudely” made to look like a government document, which falsely claimed they were eligible for all sorts of benefits. While this is true for certain refugees, that wasn’t at all the case here. Migrants were then unceremoniously dumped at a ​​non-profit organization at Martha’s Vineyard, which, like the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, had not been told in advance about the migrant arrivals.

Migrant flights to California continued into this week, when 20 more people were transported from Texas by Florida, The Sacramento Bee reported. “Bonta said that many of the migrants were ‘anxious and emotional’ when they arrived. ‘Florida, through this program, is demonstrating the worst of who we can be,’ Bonta said.’” The Attorney General said that two men believed to be Vertol employees were on both flights. 

“It’s DeSantis being exactly who he is and advertising to the world that he is petty, little … and full of political stunts that hurt, harm and abuse and exploit people to try and get cheap political points,” Bonta said following the initial flight last week. “It’s wrong.”

These are the kind of sneaky shenanigans that we’ve come to expect from DeSantis, who has purposefully sought to demonize migrants, the future of Florida and our country be damned. DeSantis last year reportedly complained to donors that Texas had the “good political fortune to share 1,254 miles of border with Mexico and complained that he didn’t have the same to use as a backdrop,” The New York Times reported in 2022. So he instead sent his political operatives to Texas in search of a problem.

There could be some big trouble ahead for some of them, depending on what Texas officials decide to do. Also on Monday, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office announced the result of an investigation it opened last year following the Martha’s Vineyard stunt. In its findings, the sheriff’s department recommended the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office bring charges against so-far unnamed suspects. “The case filed includes both felony and misdemeanor charges of Unlawful Restraint,” a statement said. Bonta’s office said that California would also probe for any wrongdoing.

“While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting,” he said. “We are a nation built by immigrants and we must condemn the cruelty and hateful rhetoric of those, whether they are state leaders or private parties, who refuse to recognize humanity and who turn their backs on extending dignity and care to fellow human beings.”

“California and the Sacramento community will welcome these individuals with open arms and provide them with the respect, compassion, and care they will need after such a harrowing experience,” he continued.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers back in Florida are in panic mode after fears that immigrant workers are fleeing the state due to their anti-immigrant bill, which was signed into place by DeSantis last month. In a video released by state organizer Thomas Kennedy this week, a trio of GOP lawmakers admitted the bill was driven by politics, and pleaded with workers to stop leaving the state. For DeSantis, it’s all about boosting his 2024 presidential aspirations. But it’s peoples’ lives he’s playing with here. And in Florida, it’s not just immigrants, its businesses and a state economy that’s already shown some worrying signs.