Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration may keep flying migrants from the border to Democratic states using Florida taxpayer money, according to newly released public records.
In a letter dated Oct. 8, the state contractor responsible for the program told the Florida Department of Transportation that it wanted to continue its “Humanitarian Services Proposal” through Dec. 1.
The contractor’s proposal called for sending 100 or more migrants to “Delaware, Illinois or other states” — at a cost of $950,000 in state funds.
DeSantis’ migrant relocation program was revealed on Sept. 14, when the contractor, Vertol Systems Company, flew 48 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island where former President Barack Obama has a vacation home. The migrants said they’d been tricked into getting on board with false promises of jobs and aid.
Records released Friday after business hours show that Vertol then proposed additional flights sending 50 migrants to Delaware and 50 to Illinois between Sept. 19 and Oct. 3. The company did set up a flight to Delaware planned for Sept. 20, recruiting migrants and putting them up in a hotel, a Miami Herald investigation found. The flight was to leave from San Antonio. But after a local sheriff announced a criminal investigation, the flight was abruptly canceled. DeSantis’ office did not explain why.
So far, the relocation program has cost Florida taxpayers $1.565 million, out of a $12 million budget approved by the Legislature.
Budget language specifically stated that only “unauthorized aliens” from the state of Florida should be removed. Immigration advocates and DeSantis’ political opponents have pointed out that the migrants were living in Texas, not Florida — an apparent violation of the rules. They have also argued that the migrants were authorized to be in the United States, since they presented themselves to border authorities and were granted the right to stay in the country temporarily.
Vertol’s Oct. 8 letter, signed by CEO James Montgomerie, seems to follow the budget language and doesn’t mention Texas, saying that its “humanitarian” services will “facilitate the transfer of unauthorized aliens from Florida.”
Neither the governor’s office nor Vertol immediately responded to requests for comment Friday evening.
The state has revealed little about its relocation program and has released public records only in response to pressure from the media and watchdog groups.
Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.