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California investigating whether migrant flights were orchestrated by Florida

State Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office said a second flight landed in Sacramento on Monday carrying migrants with “documents indicating that their transportation to California involved the state of Florida.”
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California Attorney General Rob Bonta is investigating whether migrants recently flown by private plane to Sacramento without prior arrangements were part of a "scheme" by the state of Florida.

"We’re looking at the movement in two separate instances of asylum-seekers that were originally contacted in...El Paso, Texas, and then moved to New Mexico and then flown to Sacramento," Bonta said in an interview Monday with NBC affiliate KCRA in Sacramento. "From what we can tell, it was all part of the same scheme, the same official policy of the state of Florida."

He said the investigation could result in "civil or criminal actions against the state of Florida or any of its employees or officials, as well as the private vendors that were hired by the state of Florida."

In an earlier statement, Bonta said, “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.”

Rob Bonta in San Francisco, Calif
Rob Bonta in San Francisco on Aug. 7, 2019.Liz Hafalia / AP file

Bonta's office said that the second plane landed in Sacramento on Monday carrying about 20 people and that the contractor operating it appeared to be the one that transported the first group of migrants on Friday.

"As was the case with the migrants who arrived on Friday, the migrants who arrived today carried documents indicating that their transportation to California involved the State of Florida," Bonta's office said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

DeSantis, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, last year flew 50 immigrants, most of them Venezuelan, from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, without notice. DeSantis said the flights were meant to highlight the crisis at the southern border, while Democrats and immigration activists said it made political pawns of vulnerable people.

On Monday, the sheriff's office in Bexar County, Texas, said it has recommended that the district attorney bring criminal charges related to those flights.

“The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has officially filed a completed criminal case with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office regarding the incident from September 2022 where 49 migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard," the sheriff's office said in a statement. "The charge filed is Unlawful Restraint and several accounts were filed, both misdemeanor and felony. At this time, the case is being reviewed by the DA’s office."

Although Florida's migrant transport program has been largely dormant since the flights last year, the DeSantis administration has quietly signaled that it could restart. The USA Today Network reported last month that the DeSantis administration has picked three vendors, including Vertol Systems Co., which carried out the September flights to Martha's Vineyard, to work with the migrant transfer program.

The Florida Legislature passed a bill in February that expanded DeSantis' program authorizing government officials to fly migrants to destinations in blue states that have sanctuary policies. The Republican-controlled Legislature gave the DeSantis administration $10 million for the program in a February special legislative session and $12 million more in the recently concluded 2023 legislative session.

DeSantis also signed a sweeping immigration overhaul bill last month, weeks before he announced his presidential campaign and a day before the Biden administration ended Title 42, a Covid restriction that made it easier to expel migrants at the southern border.