DeSantis used Florida tax money when migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard

TALLAHASSEE – Governor Ron DeSantis paid $615,000 in Florida taxpayer money to relocate nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants of Texas at Martha’s Vineyard as calls intensified on Friday from Democrats demanding an investigation into the action.

Democrat Charlie Crist, who is challenging DeSantis in the November gubernatorial race, tweeted the dollar amount after campaign researchers found the September 8 payment to Vertol Systems, a Destin-based transportation services company, on the state’s site.

The payment came from the Florida Department of Transportation, which oversees a new $12 million program to move “unauthorized aliens” out of the state.

“Ron won’t answer questions so we looked at each other,” Crist tweeted.

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He added, “So Floridians paid $12,300 for every refugee that DeSantis trafficked for his own political purposes.”

DeSantis did not provide any details on how he carried out the move on Wednesday, which came a day before Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent two busloads of migrants to Vice President Kamala’s official residence. Harris in Washington, DC. He told reporters Friday that it’s more of a similar operation to keep migrants out of Florida.

DeSantis’ office says he acted in accordance with Florida’s immigration relocation program

Other uncertainties remain about the role of the state in transporting migrants, who are mostly Venezuelans. Many have reported that they had been recruited for the flights in Texas by a woman identified only as “Perla”, who promised expedited work papers and other opportunities in Boston.

The governor’s office said Friday, however, that it acted in accordance with the state’s relocation program.

“The Florida Immigration Relocation Program aims to interdict smugglers, traffickers or other criminal aliens found in the state, as well as to prevent illegal aliens at the southern border from entering Florida “said spokeswoman Taryn Fenske in a statement.

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The state budget language authorizing the $12 million program allows for the transportation and “relocation of unauthorized aliens,” but only mentions those from Florida.

Yet the relocations have inflamed debate over President Biden’s border policy, which Republicans say is increasing the influx of undocumented migrants, drugs and crime into the United States, particularly in border states ruled by the President. GOP, Texas and Arizona.

Biden denounced the governors’ decisions, which came after Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey had previously sent migrants to Chicago, New York and Washington, DC.

“Instead of working with us on solutions, Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props,” Biden said. “What they are doing is just plain wrong.”

After two days of uncertainty on the island of Massachusetts, the migrants were moved Friday to a military installation, Joint Base Cape Cod, for temporary shelter and humanitarian support.

Civil rights lawyers are helping them with their immigration efforts, and Martha’s Vineyard volunteers have fed them and helped house them at a local church.

Governor Ron DeSantis spent $615,000 in Florida taxpayer money to ferry nearly 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard, state records show.

Crist agreed the US Department of Justice should investigate whether DeSantis violated federal trafficking laws

Crist was at the state Capitol on Friday for a campaign rally, where he said he agreed with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s appeal, whom he defeated in the primary. August Democrat that the US Justice Department should investigate whether DeSantis violated federal human trafficking laws. move migrants.

“It may not have just been an immoral act,” Crist said. “It may have been an illegal act. And we have the right to know.

DeSantis seemed to be aware that Florida’s relocation law, which he pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature this year, is only about moving “unauthorized aliens from this state.”

The two Florida-paid planes departed San Antonio, Texas, and then traveled to Crestview on the Florida Panhandle, a stopover possibly intended to legitimize the use of Florida taxpayer dollars. From there, a plane went to Spartanburg, SC, before continuing on to Martha’s Vineyard.

The other plane went to Charlotte, North Carolina, before landing on the island, according to flight records.

Bruce Bowman, vice president and general counsel for Emerald Coast Aviation, which operates Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, told the USA Today Network-Florida that no one called ahead to let them know a plane carrying undocumented immigrants or a plane sent from Texas by the governor was going to land at Crestview.

“Nothing happened out of the ordinary. What was reported to me was that the plane landed, we fueled it and it took off,” he said. .

DeSantis, a Republican 2024 presidential candidate, defended his decision, speaking Thursday in Niceville.

“We take what’s happening on the southern border very seriously, unlike some, and unlike the President of the United States who has refused to lift a finger to secure that border,” DeSantis said.

On Friday, DeSantis, speaking in Daytona Beach, said more flights were planned to send Venezuelan immigrants and others to out-of-state “sanctuary” communities.

“There will also be buses, and there will probably be more flights,” DeSantis said. “I’ll tell you this, the Legislature gave me $12 million. We will spend every penny to ensure that we protect the people of the State of Florida. »

John Kennedy is a reporter for the Florida Capital Bureau of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

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