A Florida state senator is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis over his controversial migrant relocation program. He claims the Florida Legislature did not authorize him to use state funds to transport migrants from other states.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, filed a 15-page lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court late Thursday, alleging the DeSantis administration failed to meet the requirements that only “unauthorized aliens” from within Florida are permitted to travel. According to the suit, the Florida Department of Transportation did not obtain at least two price quotes for migrant transportation services from vendors.
Jared W. Perdue, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary, and Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis are defendants.
According to Pizzo, the state is breaking the law. “They haven’t provided evidence proving that this is legal.” The governor’s press office provided no comment.
DeSantis, widely regarded as one of the top Republican presidential candidates in 2024, brought national media attention to his decision last week to fly nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, an affluent island, with a fueling stop in northwest Florida.
Democratic activists, immigrant advocates, and others criticized the Republican governor for using migrants as political pawns. According to DeSantis, his action was intended to draw attention to Biden’s “reckless” border security policies and steer undocumented immigrants away from Florida.
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Migrant flights to Massachusetts were not reported to local or federal authorities by DeSantis. Venezuelan migrants are not here illegally because they were “paroled” into the country as asylum seekers and allowed to remain as long as their immigration cases were pending.
DeSantis says Florida hired a contractor to find migrants headed north and take them to “sanctuary jurisdictions.” He says he wants more migrants identified in Texas and taken to sanctuary jurisdictions.
Originally, the flights were estimated to cost $615,000. However, Florida has paid another $950,000 to Vertol Systems Company, a Destin, Fla.-based aviation firm, bringing the total to more than $1.5 million, or roughly $31,000 per Venezuelan migrant.
Legislators increased DeSantis’ request for $12 million, which will be used to ship undocumented migrants out of the state. The state Department of Transportation administers the funds.
From Florida’s $8.8 billion share of the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund, $12 million was derived from interest earnings. The U.S. Treasury says the $350 billion was provided to state and local governments as part of its response and recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency.
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DeSantis migrant relocation under fire
DeSantis administration officials were questioned on migrant relocation during the 2022 legislative debate by Florida state senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat running for Congress against Republican incumbent Maria Elvira Salazar.
Earlier this week, she told reporters the money derived indirectly from COVID-19 pandemic relief funds is being misused.
“I think the federal government should investigate this because it’s unbelievable that [funds] were given from the federal government to help Floridians via COVID,” she said.
To claim the Venezuelan migrants entered Florida, DeSantis may have stopped the aircraft in the panhandle in Crestview, Fla.
“That’s probably why they’re landing in Florida, so they can cover the fact that the budget requires that they come from Florida,” she said.
Legal Challenges Loom
Several legal actions have been filed in connection with the Venezuelans flown to Martha’s Vineyard in recent days.
The DeSantis administration is accused of using a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to transport migrants, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed in Boston Tuesday. Javier Salazar, Sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, announced on Monday that his agency had launched an investigation into a fraud that lured 48 Venezuelan migrants to board flights from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.
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