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Florida arranged migrant flights to California, where officials are considering legal action

California investigating migrant flights
California investigating migrant flights 02:08

Florida officials confirmed Tuesday that the state arranged the chartered flights that took migrants to Sacramento on Monday and last Friday, generating outrage from California authorities.

The statement from the Florida Division of Emergency Management came a day after California's attorney general said he was considering legal action over the flights, which he said could amount to "state-sanctioned kidnapping." 

The Florida Division of Emergency Management said in the statement that the state's relocation program was voluntary, noting that there was verbal and written consent indicating the migrants wanted to go to California.

Florida has faced pushback from officials in both California and Texas, who have said the flights may be breaking the law. 

Florida officials have justified arranging the migrant flights in the past. DeSantis, a presidential candidate and fierce critic of President Biden's immigration policy, signed a bill in May allocating $12 million for the transport of migrants

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets attendees during the annual Roast and Ride hosted by Sen. Joni Ernst in Des Moines on June 3, 2023.  Rachel Mummey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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

On Monday, the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in Texas recommended criminal charges to the local district attorney over migrant flights to Martha's Vineyard arranged by Florida in September 2022.

The Bexar County Sheriff's Office has alleged unlawful restraint was involved in the migrant flights. Officials have said they are looking into how migrants "were lured from the Migrant Resource Center, located in Bexar County, TX, and flown to Florida, where they were ultimately left to fend for themselves in Martha's Vineyard, MA."

Forty nine migrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts in September 2022, with some of them saying that they suffered emotional trauma as a result. At the time, DeSantis's communications director said the flights were part of an effort to "transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations." 

Under Texas law, someone can be charged with unlawful restraint if they "restrict a person's movements without consent, so as to interfere substantially with the person's liberty, by moving the person from one place to another or by confining the person." Restraint is considered to be without consent if it's accomplished by force, intimidation or deception.

It's not yet clear whether Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Joe D. Gonzales will pursue the charges or who they would be filed against, but he said his office was reviewing the case thoroughly. 

"If a review of the facts reveal that a felony offense has been committed, we will present that case to a grand jury for their deliberation," Gonzales said.

DeSantis has not yet responded directly to the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, but on Tuesday his office released a statement touting Florida's record in assisting Texas immigration authorities, including with more than 190 arrests.

"Florida teams have made contact with more than 5,800 undocumented migrants and assisted the Texas Department of Public Safety with more than 190 arrests including felony charges for human smuggling, drug paraphernalia, unlawful carrying of weapons, and a suspect with a capital murder warrant," the statement said.

The Florida governor was also sued over the Martha's Vineyard incident, but a federal judge dismissed the case.

On Monday, a spokesperson for California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the migrants flown to Sacramento carried "documents indicating that their transportation to California involved the state of Florida." After the first flight landed, Bonta said his office was looking into possible criminal or civil action against those who transported the migrants or arranged for the transportation. Bonta said evidence was being collected. 

The migrants on Friday's plane to Sacramento originated in Texas, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said. 

"These individuals were transported from Texas to New Mexico before being flown by private chartered jet to Sacramento and dumped on the doorstep of a local church without any advance warning," Newsom said.

Newsom tweeted about DeSantis on Monday, calling him a "small, pathetic man."

"This isn't Martha's Vineyard," he tweeted. "Kidnapping charges?"

The tweet included a link to California legislation on kidnapping and an image of the legislation. 

"Every person who, being out of this state, abducts or takes by force or fraud any person contrary to the law of the place where that act is committed, and brings, sends, or conveys that person within the limits of this state, and is afterwards found within the limits thereof, is guilty of kidnapping," the law reads. 

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