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Photo: Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Photo: Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Florida confirms and defends DeSantis orchestrating migrant flights to California

The Florida Division of Emergency Management — the state body that oversees the governor's migrant relocation program — confirmed DeSantis’ direct involvement.

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Governor Ron DeSantis arranged the two migrant flights to Sacramento, California in the last week, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) confirmed in a statement and video. 

The first migrant flight arrived last Friday and had 16 migrants from Colombia and Venezuela who entered the country through Texas and were processed by immigration officials and taken to the Roman Catholic Church Diocese's headquarters in Sacramento. 

The second migrant flight to Sacramento arrived this past Monday morning. 

The decision to issue an explanation following days of silence was likely triggered by the calls to criminally charge the governor — including that of kidnapping from foe and fellow Governor Gavin Newsom. 

FDEM Communications Director Alecia Collins issued a statement and video that tried to debunk the accusations that the migrants were misled or taken against their will. 

The video showed migrants appearing to be signing paperwork and voluntarily going onto the private chartered plane headed to Sacramento. 

In one clip, a group is asked in Spanish: “At any point did you feel like you were treated poorly?”

“No, they treated us very well,” one person replies.

Collins said the relocation was “precisely that — voluntary,” by way of verbal and written consent with indications from the individuals that they wanted to be on the flight heading west. 

A contractor was present to ensure safe travel to Catholic charities used and funded by the federal government, according to the statement. 

“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new,” Collins wrote. “But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it's false imprisonment and kidnapping.” 

Newsom and Bonta Respond 

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in an ABC News interview that the migrants were misled "based on direct conversations that I've had with a number of them who indicated they were promised help finding jobs if they got on the plane and after they got off the plane rather than receiving any help finding jobs... they were dumped and deserted and left."

"They deceived them and misled them and lied to them and that's morally bankrupt, it's cruel, it's inhumane, it's wrong," Bonta added.

Bonta responded to Florida’s self-admission, telling the New York Times it was appropriate that the governor and state officials were “accepting blame for their reprehensible and morally bankrupt conduct.” 

The Attorney General added that the migrants were left “dazed and confused, violated and hurt on the doorstep of an archdiocese that wasn’t even open.”

Newsom offered his own rebuttal to Florida’s statement telling POLITICO in an interview Monday the Sunshine State’s admission does not necessarily evade those involved from any potential criminal charges found in the investigation into the flights being conducted by the state Department of Justice. 

The former Mayor of San Francisco stood firm on his belief that the migrants were led under false pretenses. 

“When you have the smoking gun, which is the paperwork in hand that everyone hands over to you, it’s pretty self evident,” Newsom said. 

“How utterly pathetic it is that a governor from an East Coast state had to hire with tax dollars, staff and a private contractor, to find people in another state to travel them to two states in order to get attention,” Newsom added. “How pathetic is that? And potentially illegal as well.”

Bonta, in a statement over the weekend following the arrival of the first migrant flight, said the state would be investigating the matter for any potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of the migrants. 

Newsom confirmed on Saturday that the California DOJ had launched their investigation with the governor’s threats of criminal charges still being a very true threat, according to his interview Monday. 

“That’s very serious, and it’s ongoing,” Newsom said of the investigation. “And we’ll make a determination as the facts present themselves.” 

Newsom and Bonta both met with the arrivals on Saturday who all “independently told me similar stories about how they were misled and lied to. … The notion of taking people under false pretense is well established statute,” he said. 

How far this goes legally in regards to the kidnapping accusations from Newsom or getting any kind of outcome close to a misdemeanor for false representation will be determined by Bonta’s office.

How difficult will it be to prosecute? 

Besides what could potentially come from the California investigation, DeSantis has already had criminal charges recommended by Bexar County Texas sheriff Javier Salazar — the same day the second plane arrived in Sacramento — in connection with the two flights organized by DeSantis last year that carried 49 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. 

However, according to legal analysts who spoke to the New York Times, the attempt to hold an individual or individuals civilly or criminally accountable for the flights would more likely than not, be a tough proposition and puts the migrants in a vulnerable position as the conversation will eventually switch to how they were misled when they boarded the planes.

“I suspect that prosecuting this is going to be a stretch,” said Jon Taylor, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “It may be difficult to get a conviction.”

In the case of the Martha’s Vineyard flights, any civil or legal liability could only come about if concrete proof arose that said the agents working for Florida were misleading the migrants. 

According to Taylor, several defenses exist. The agents hired to recruit migrants could say they had been told they were simply picking up volunteers who expressed wanting to go to another state. DeSantis and any other person(s) of interest could say that they did not instruct the agents to do any such thing, presenting a plausible deniability. 

But because the group of migrants taken to Massachusetts involved several minors, the recruits could face up two-years in prison. With gathering evidence to convict — even under the best circumstances — being a labor and lengthy process, chances of anything legally outstanding arising anytime soon is low. 

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