Officials in Florida have confirmed the state is indeed responsible for sending two flights of migrants from New Mexico to Sacramento, California, after days of silence from Gov. Ron DeSantis on the issue.
The first flight touched down last Friday, dropping off 16 adult South American migrants—just days before another plane with 20 migrants arrived, prompting fierce criticism from California officials.
Gov. Gavin Newsom was particularly peeved by the stunt, labelling DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” while suggesting the state was investigating kidnapping charges against the officials who were responsible for the migrants’ transport.
Alecia Collins, the communications director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, confirmed the state's involvement in both flights Tuesday night. She also claimed that those who boarded the flight chose to go of their own volition and were subsequently handed off to a non-profit.
“Florida’s voluntary relocation is precisely that—voluntary,” Collins said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
A video, sent by Collins, allegedly shows migrants signing consent forms and giving the peace sign while on a small plane. The various clips, which are edited into a two-minute compilation, also include an image of a woman carrying a DeSantis-labeled bag and a scene where an unidentified woman asks the group: “At any point did you feel you were treated poorly?” One of the group replies: “No. No. They treated us super-well.”
“We have made it to California,” another man says, in Spanish. “Thank God. Very thankful to God.”
Collins did not answer questions surrounding the source of the videos involved and when they were filmed.
“Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California,” Collins said. “A contractor was present and ensured they made it safely to a third party N.G.O. The specific N.G.O., Catholic Charities, is used and funded by the federal government.”
The statement, initially reported by The New York Times, is the first admission that the DeSantis administration was involved in the stunt.
“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new,” added Collins.
“But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it's false imprisonment and kidnapping.”
Gabby Trejo, the executive director of Sacramento ACT, a local non-profit which has been helping in legal aid and next steps for the migrants, alleged at a news conference on Tuesday that the group had been “lied to and deceived.” She claimed the migrants had been promised jobs and housing.
The Daily Beast has contacted the ACT for comment on the video shared by the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Anthony York, a spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, described the video to the Times as “exploitative and gross.”
“The attorney general has an active investigation ongoing,” Mr. York said. “We’ll see if his findings are consistent with the propaganda being peddled by the state of Florida or not.”
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta described it as “a cruel stunt,” adding on Twitter: “It’ll take more than a callous act from a petty xenophobe to make us turn back on our values.”