Democratic leaders in California and Texas on Thursday urged the Justice Department to investigate a Florida program that solicited asylum seekers in Texas and sent them unannounced to Martha’s Vineyard and Sacramento.
In a letter who called the state-funded initiative an « ongoing scheme » that appeared to be spearheaded by Florida’s Republican governor and based on deception, California Gov. Gavin Newsom; state attorney general, Rob Bonta; and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has requested an examination of the Florida program for possible violations of federal law.
« It is inconceivable to use people as political props by convincing them to travel to another state based on false or deceptive statements, » the officials wrote in the letter to Merrick B. Garland, the US Attorney General.
While Democratic leaders acknowledged that nongovernmental organizations and local officials sent migrants from border states to other U.S. destinations, they argued that Florida’s program was different because it duped people into promising them jobs and shelter without providing those offers. . In Sacramento and Martha’s Vineyard, immigrants ended up on the doorsteps of local churches and religious organizations that weren’t expecting guests.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, Republicans who have claimed responsibility for sending migrants to Democratic-led states, said people have volunteered to travel elsewhere. They also framed the moves as a protest against President Biden’s border policies and argued that Democratic cities and states that have declared themselves sanctuaries against immigration enforcement should welcome migrants.
Democratic leaders, including Mr Bonta and Mr Newsom, have in turn denounced the transfers as a biased and insensitive political stunt. Over the past year, Mr. Newsom has attacked Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Abbott for their abortion, gun and immigration policies, encouraging other Democrats to call out Republican-led states. The California governor flew to Idaho this week to rally Democratic voters.
Mr. DeSantis did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the request for a federal investigation. A spokesman for Mr. Newsom said Mr. Garland’s office had not yet responded to Thursday’s inquiry.
Thursday’s letter focused on moves underwritten by a Florida-funded « Unauthorized Alien Transportation Program, » which has so far claimed responsibility for the transfer of about 100 migrants. The program carried far fewer people than Texas, but operated more stealthily by offloading migrants without warning.
Last month, the Florida program paid for two planeloads of Latino migrants to fly to Sacramento, prompting civil and criminal investigations by the California Department of Justice. After several migrants said they took off because a program contractor promised them work and housing before leaving them without resources, Mr Newsom suggested that « kidnapping » charges should be brought against Mr DeSantis , who is running for president .
A similar move last September of several dozen Latino migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a liberal enclave in Massachusetts, prompted a Texas investigation by Sheriff Salazar. He also established that false promises of housing, education and work had been made. A referral for potential prosecution in that case is pending with the Bexar County District Attorney’s office, Thursday’s letter said.
Legal analysts say any civil or criminal proceedings could be difficult to pursue and will likely hinge on whether the migrants were misled into their transfers. Many of those who landed in California and Massachusetts had papers with them indicating that they had agreed to be transported.
Texas sheriff and California authorities argued that federal officials should have been involved because the Florida program had crossed state lines.
“Although separate investigations into potential violations of state laws remain active, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) has a unique ability to investigate cases where, as in this case, the pattern extends from Massachusetts to California,” he says the letter.