MIAMI - Several Democratic leaders and Venezuelan activists met in Doral on Thursday and took aim at the DeSantis administration for arranging and funding flights for Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard.
"Even for an extremist, power-hungry opportunist bully, like DeSantis, this is a new low. There is nothing he will not do, no one he will not hurt in order to satisfy his ego," said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz.
They said it was a political stunt to distract away from the real issues that Florida is facing, such as the housing crisis and reproductive rights.
"He is trying to distract from the real issues," said former Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell "Not only are we facing higher levels of inflation here in Florida than other states. There's an affordability crisis, but he wants to ban abortion with out exception for rape and incest."
They said the point is that we should try to help those coming here seeking freedom and a better life.
"If you see a man coming across a river with his infant daughter and they're willing to die on the way, know that something very wrong is going on at home. I don't know one immigrant who comes here just for decoration. To leave everything that you know, all of your friends, all of your family, if everything was fine at home. We don't come here for that, we come here seeking freedom and opportunity," said state Rep. Dotie Joseph.
Governor Ron DeSantis doubled down on his program today during an event at Miami-Dade College. "This was not an issue of concern even two weeks ago. Now it seems to be on the front burner so we're proud of that," Gov. DeSantis said.
He explained more about how his program works. "The policy is we want to voluntarily transport away from Florida so we don't have to bear the cost. There is a vendor doing that for us. There have been people at the border, the panhandle to be able to make sure that that policy we've been charged with is being implemented," Gov. DeSantis explained.
He said contractors identify people who may try to end up in Florida. "We have people, many say they want to go to Florida. So the contractor is identifying who they think, didn't necessarily say that they're profiling. Then they come to the Panhandle and then the flight is from the Panhandle in," he said.
Florida Senator Jason Pizzo said he's taking Governor Ron DeSantis to court to block him from spending any more taxpayer money on migrant flights from the southern border to other states.
Pizzo said the governor's administration broke the law when they paid for flights to move the Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Massachusetts.
In justifying the flights, DeSantis pointed to a provision in the state budget that sets aside $12 million for a new program to transport migrants unlawfully in the United States.
Pizzo points out that the budget, signed into law by Desantis in June, states that the money was for transporting those individuals "from this state." All of the individuals transported by Florida were picked up in Texas.
Florida spent $600 thousand to move the migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard.
Pizzo said that a legal challenge seeking an emergency injunction is "imminent" and he is hoping for a hearing by the end of the week.
Earlier this week another legal challenge on the migrants' flight was filed by attorneys with Lawyers for Civil Rights and Alianza Americas. The class action suit names DeSantis, the state's transportation secretary, and the state of Florida. It says they are responsible for the "illegal scheme" to transport 50 migrants last week under the false pretenses of housing and jobs being arranged for them.
Oscar Chacon, the Executive Director of Alianza Americas, said his group has been hearing about similar situations for some time.
"Alianza Americas has actually been very busy with this subject matter from the beginning. Buses arriving to (Washington) DC without anyone knowing where they were arriving. Our members there have been extremely busy trying to respond in the best way possible. We've seen these same patterns repeated in New York City, in Chicago, and more recently in Massachusetts," he said.
The lawsuit claims that the migrants were told they were going to Boston or Washington, "which was completely false," and were induced with perks such as $10 McDonald's gift certificates.
The lawsuit also mentions the migrants were deceived by officials promising help for the refugees and many said they would not have gone if they had known the truth.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the governor's office released the consent documents migrants signed.
Though the English version does mention Massachusetts, the Spanish translation did not. The form didn't give much detail about what would happen once the migrants reached their final destination.
DeSantis' communications director, Taryn Fenske, issued a statement that read in part:
"The transportation of the immigrants to Martha's Vineyard was done on a voluntary basis.
The immigrants were homeless, hungry, and abandoned - and these activists didn't care about them then. Florida's program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these individuals opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts."
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