Records Raise Questions on DeSantis' Migrant Flights

Companies were asked to submit bids for flights out of Florida, not Texas
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 10, 2022 10:35 AM CDT
Records Raise Questions on DeSantis' Migrant Flights
Migrants prepare to leave St. Andrews in Edgartown, Mass., on Sept. 16.   (Ron Schloerb/Cape Cod Times via AP)

New details have surfaced on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to fly dozens of Venezuelan migrants to Martha's Vineyard last month, raising more questions about whether he violated state law. According to records released Friday, the Florida Department of Transportation asked companies in July to submit bids to "implement and manage a program to relocate out of the State of Florida foreign nationals who are not lawfully present in the United States," the Washington Post reports. The request stated that the flights would transport "Unauthorized Aliens who are found in Florida and have agreed to be relocated." The 48 migrants taken to Martha's Vineyard on two flights, however, were flown there from San Antonio, Texas, with the aircraft making brief stops in the Florida city of Crestview.

Documents show that an air charter company told the state transportation department it would cost $55,000 to transport up to 12 people from Crestview to Boston, and $90,000 to take them to Los Angeles, per ABC News. Records show that the state ended up paying Vertol Systems $615,000 for the Martha's Vineyard flights, around $12,000 per passenger. The company was also paid $950,000 on Sept. 19 for a flight to Delaware, President Biden's home state, that were later canceled, the Post reports. The program Florida lawmakers authorized in June provided $12 million to "facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state," but it didn't mention transporting migrants from Texas or elsewhere.

Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo is suing DeSantis and other officials over the program, saying the governor is spending taxpayer funds illegally because the Venezuelan asylum-seekers weren't in the US illegally and they weren't relocated from Florida. DeSantis argued last month that diverting migrants "at the source" reduced the chances they would end up in Florida, CNN reports. The New York Times reports that DeSantis planned the program as a way for Florida to push back against the federal government flying migrants into the state, but DeSantis turned to Texas because "additional large groups of migrants that had been expected had failed to materialize." (Migrants say they were "lured" onto the chartered planes with false promises of housing and jobs.)

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