“State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting.” – California Attorney General Rob Bonta
"The charge filed is unlawful restraint and several counts were filed, both misdemeanor and felony." -- Sheriff Javier Salazar, Bexar County, Texas
By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left (by Gage Skidmore, cc-sa-2.0) and California Attorney Rob Bonta,via his website
June 5, 2023 (San Diego) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis launched his campaign for President last month. But his role in shipping immigrants to other states has sparked condemnation and criminal investigations in California and Texas.
A year ago, DeSantis signed a budget that allocated $12 million to transport undocumented immigrants out of Florida, NBC news reports. Last September, DeSantis claimed credit for flying 49 asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, the New York Times reported. In the past week, over a dozen migrants were flown to Sacramento, California by private plane. In both instances, no care had been arranged and some migrants said they had been lured onto flights with false promises of jobs and opportunities.
On June 2, Sheriff Javier Salazar in Bexar County, Texas announced that his 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," Salazar's office stated, according to Texas Public Radio. "The charge filed is Unlawful Restraint and several counts were filed, both misdemeanor and felony." Now the county's district attorney is determining whether to prosecute defendants, potentially including members of the DeSantis administration, the Miami Herald reports.
On June 3, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that he’d met with the migrants sent to California adding, “We are investigating the circumstances by which these individuals were brought to California. We are also evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants.”
DeSantis defended his shipping of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard last year. “States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as 'sanctuary states',” he said, blaming the Biden administration for not doing more to stem the tide of immigrants.
DeSantis added, “If you have folks who are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state, it's better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction," he said. "We will help facilitate that transport for you, so you can go to greener pastures."
Although DeSantis has not admitted to shipping immigrants to California, Bonta said the immigrants “were in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida and that their transportation was arranged by the same private contractor that had shipped immigrants to Massachusetts, the Guardian reports.
California’s Attorney General added, “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.”
Today, Bonta posted on Twitter that a second flight of asylum seekers has touched down in Sacramento. He stated, “We’re investigating the circumstances by which they were brought to California.”
Bonta, who immigrated to California from the Philippines as an infant with his family, concluded, “We are a nation built by immigrants and we must condemn the cruelty and hateful rhetoric of those, whether they are state leaders or private parties, who refuse to recognize humanity and who turn their backs on extending dignity and care to fellow human beings. California and the Sacramento community will welcome these individuals with open arms and provide them with the respect, compassion, and care they will need after such a harrowing experience.”
Governor Gavin Newsom went further in a tweet today, suggesting the state may prosecute DeSantis, whom he denounced, for abducting the immigrants, “This isn’t Martha’s Vineyard. Kidnapping charges?” Newsom wrote.
His tweet linked to a California penal code section which states that anybody who "abducts or takes by force or fraud” a person found within the state “is guilty of kidnapping.”