California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) on Tuesday pledged to move forward with an investigation into potential wrongdoing by Florida officials and others in persuading migrants in Texas to board flights to California.
Bonta’s investigation comes as a feud is heating up between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) over the flights, which DeSantis’s office on Tuesday said it directed as part of a multi-million dollar effort to relocate migrants.
“I’m glad the state of Florida is accepting blame for what they’ve done,” Bonta told The Hill.
“They have no choice but to — all the evidence pointed that way. It was obvious that it was them. They have a $10 [million] to $12 million budget outlay to pay for this program.”
In a statement to The Hill earlier Tuesday, DeSantis’s office said the migrants, some of whom are asylum seekers, boarded the planes from Texas voluntarily.
“Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California,” reads the statement from DeSantis’s office, which also provided a video to back up its claims.
The video shows clips of migrants being transported on a party bus, a still photo of migrants in a plane that matches the description of one that landed in Sacramento Monday, migrants reading and signing what appear to be contracts, clips of migrants in a nondescript office lauding the treatment they received and a longer interview of one migrant, grateful that he is off the streets.
“The state of Florida’s propaganda machine is in overdrive right now. Look at how many times they use the word ‘voluntary.’ Look at the title of the program. Its name is called the Voluntary Transportation Program. They really want everyone to think that it’s voluntary. They really, really do,” Bonta said.
“And it’s very defensive, and they’re trying too hard, because they know they have a problem with the lack of a voluntary nature of what happened.”
Bonta added that his office will investigate whether any civil or criminal violations were committed in transporting the migrants to California, focusing on whether the migrants were fully appraised of their circumstances.
“I think deception is a key part of what’s happened here. The lying to them, the false representations, the misrepresentations, the deceit and telling them that if they came to where these vehicles and this plane was traveling, they would help them find jobs, and then never lifting a finger to help them find jobs, but instead deserting and dumping them on the steps of Sacramento diocese and never having an intention to help find them jobs, but using it to lure them into the travel arrangement,” said Bonta.
“So deception is a key part of it. And of course, the physical movement of these human beings hundreds of miles away.”
A sheriff in Texas has recommended criminal charges after DeSantis in September sent dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., as part of another relocation effort.
“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,” the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.
Bonta said California’s investigation could involve multiple people and entities.
“Everyone involved, anyone involved in the scheme and the movement of the 36 asylum seekers from El Paso to Sacramento with New Mexico in between, and that includes the state of Florida and its employees who are involved, and that includes any private entity,” he said.
—Lauren Sforza contributed.