ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida officials began planning to transport migrants to other states in July and told would-be contractors their task would be to relocate them on a voluntary basis, state documents show. State.
Documents released Friday night to The Associated Press and other news outlets provide new details about the scheme that culminated in the Sept. 14 flight of 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts.
The theft prompted an investigation by a Texas sheriff and two lawsuits amid criticism that the program was a political stunt by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to appeal to his conservative base.
DeSantis is running for re-election this year and is frequently mentioned as a potential 2024 presidential candidate. His office did not immediately respond to an email Saturday seeking comment on the release of the document.
According to the documents, the program as described in July was intended to “assist in the voluntary relocation of unauthorized aliens who are in Florida and have agreed to be relocated” elsewhere in the country. He made no mention of finding migrants in Texas.
An unsuccessful Florida-based bidder, Gun Girls Procurement Solutions Inc., offered a price of $26,000 to fly a minimum of five people and a security guard to Massachusetts. Another potential bidder who offered pricing options was a New York-based charter jet company called Wheels Up, the documents show.
In the end, state officials chose Destin, Florida-based Vertol Systems Co. and have so far paid the company $1.56 million for the Martha’s Vineyard flight and possibly be for a second flight to Delaware, President Joe Biden’s home state, which didn’t happen. No other flights have been announced.
Records show that an Ohio-based charter company, Ultimate JetCharters, was contracted to ferry the migrants from Texas to a brief stopover in Crestview, Florida, and then to Martha’s Vineyard.
In Massachusetts, meanwhile, officials said Friday that all Venezuelan migrants, who are seeking asylum in the United States, have left temporary shelter at a military base on Cape Cod.
In an emailed statement, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration said it was “grateful for the collaborative efforts among multiple state agencies and nonprofit providers to ensure that every individual receives needed humanitarian resources. and has access to new housing options”.
Some of the migrants sued DeSantis and other Florida officials in federal court in Boston, claiming they were victims of a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to relocate them.
Florida Senator Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, also filed a lawsuit in state court in Tallahassee, saying the flight from Massachusetts is a violation of state law, in part because the migrants weren’t not in Florida at the time. The Legislature authorized $12 million for the resettlement program that specifically cites migrants within Florida’s borders.
Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott contributed from Providence, Rhode Island.