‘Pathetic man’: California gov slams DeSantis over migrant flight

California’s top official suggests Florida governor guilty of kidnapping after flying asylum seekers to the US state’s capital, Sacramento.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento received 16 migrants and asylum seekers from Venezuela and Colombia on Friday, after they were allegedly transported to California at the behest of Florida officials [Tran Nguyen/The Associated Press]

California Governor Gavin Newsom has unleashed a scathing invective against his Florida counterpart and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis after two planes of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arrived in his state.

In a tweet on Monday, Newsom called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man”, implying the Florida governor had orchestrated the flights. Newsom also linked his post to the California penal code’s definition of kidnapping, preceded by the comment, “Kidnapping charges?”

The tweet came shortly before a spokesperson for California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that a second plane carrying 20 migrants had landed in California’s capital, Sacramento.

The first had arrived in the state capital on Friday, carrying 16 people. Bonta said those arrivals were then dropped off at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.

“While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting,” Bonta said in a statement on Saturday.

Bonta has indicated that he believes officials in Florida arranged the flight, which transported South American migrants and asylum seekers from Texas to California.

His spokesperson, Tara Gallegos, said on Monday that the second group of migrants appeared to have been transported by the same company contracted by Florida.

That firm, Vertol Systems Company, had previously received $1.56 million from Florida last year to fly migrants and asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, as well as for a possible second flight to Delaware that never took place.

Gallegos explained that documents carried by Friday’s flight of migrants indicated that they too were transported by Vertol as part of a programme run by Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. Many of the arrivals were from Colombia and Venezuela.

Eddie Carmona, campaign director at the faith-based group PICO California, told The Associated Press news agency the 16 arrivals had been processed by US immigration officials in Texas and given court dates for their asylum cases.

They were then approached by “individuals representing a private contractor” who promised to give them jobs and help them reach their final destination.

“They were lied to and intentionally deceived,” Carmona said, adding that the group were not told they were being taken to Sacramento and none of the people transferred were seeking to travel to California.

The allegation comes as several Republican governors have continued threatening to send migrants to Democrat-led jurisdictions in the north, particularly as the public health order Title 42 expired.

That order — which allowed border authorities to expel certain asylum seekers without processing their claims — came to an end on May 11, and many observers expected its expiration to be followed by a surge in border crossings. However, an uptick in crossings has yet to materialise.

Republican governors like Texas’s Greg Abbott and Florida’s DeSantis had previously sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago and Washington, DC. Charter flights are considerably rarer.

For his part, DeSantis has regularly advertised his state’s migrant relocation efforts and has directed millions towards the project, with the help of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.

DeSantis is seen as the top Republican challenger to former President Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential race, and he has been a vocal critic of Democratic President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

On Monday, the White House weighed in on the flights, with spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre saying the Biden administration was awaiting the results of California’s investigation.

She also denounced “bussing or flying migrants around the country without any coordination” with federal, state or local officials as “dangerous and unacceptable”.

“We’ll continue to be very very clear about that,” she said. “It is dangerous and unacceptable because you’re putting people’s lives at risk. And it’s dangerous and unacceptable because you’re actually putting a lot of pressure on these states and local areas.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies