By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – The state of Florida on Tuesday acknowledged a role in sending two flights of migrants to California, saying all of them traveled voluntarily.
California officials have reported two such flights arriving without warning in the capital Sacramento in recent days, and said the migrants carried documents indicating their transportation involved the state of Florida.
The migrants apparently never passed through Florida, but were moved from Texas to New Mexico and then flown to Sacramento. Sixteen South American asylum seekers arrived on Friday, and another 20 migrants on Monday.
In a similar incident last year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis arranged to transport dozens of migrants to the Massachusetts vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard as part of a campaign by Republican governors in Texas and Florida to shift some of the immigration burden to Democratic-run cities further north.
The buses and planes of migrants have increased partisan tension on immigration as DeSantis pursues the 2024 Republican nomination for U.S. president.
Florida’s state’s Division of Emergency responded to media queries on Tuesday after state officials remained silent on the issue for days.
“Florida’s voluntary relocation is precisely that – voluntary. Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California,” Alecia Collins, an emergency management spokesperson, said in a statement.
The statement included a link to video of Spanish-speakers apparently traveling voluntarily, with one man saying he had arrived in California and others saying they were treated well on their journey. The exact circumstances in the video could not immediately be verified by Reuters.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, suggested on Monday that DeSantis may be subject to kidnapping charges related to the flights.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta has also said he was investigating whether there was criminal or civil liability for those who arranged the flights.
Florida’s response on Tuesday did not confirm specifics about the flights, but addressed more general criticism directed toward the state.
“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new. But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it’s false imprisonment and kidnapping,” Collins said.
Florida said a contractor, whom it declined to name, was present for an unspecified part of the journey and “ensured they made it safely to a third-party NGO,” namely Catholic Charities.
Advocates who aided the migrants in California said the first group was dropped at the doorstep of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. They also said the migrants reported being unaware of where they were being taken and had been promised jobs.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke; Editing by Mary Milliken and Richard Chang)
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