The private chartered flight that flew more than a dozen South American migrants from New Mexico to Sacramento was likely arranged by the state of Florida, according to California officials.
During an interview with ABC News, Attorney General Rob Bonta said the migrants arrived in Sacramento carrying release documents indicating the flight was part of Florida’s program for relocating unauthorized migrants, mostly from Texas, to other states.
The California Department of Justice has not publicly released copies of the documents, citing an ongoing investigation.
But DOJ spokesperson Tara Gallegos said the paperwork reveals that the program’s contractor is Vertol Systems Co. — the same one behind the flight last year that transported dozens of Venezuelan asylum seekers from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.
In a tweet on Monday morning, California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a “small, pathetic man.”
“This isn’t Martha’s Vineyard,” Newsom’s tweet read, before pointing to California’s state code around kidnapping.
The code stipulates that anyone who abducts a person “by force or fraud” and brings or sends them to California can be found guilty of kidnapping.
DeSantis’s office has not returned requests for comment from The Sacramento Bee or its sister publication, the Miami Herald. No politician or organization has yet to publicly take responsibility for the flight.
Bonta, however, is already blaming DeSantis and said he was preparing to file charges for the stunt. Those charges could include false imprisonment and kidnapping, as well as violations of California’s unfair competition law, Bonta told ABC News.
“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,” Bonta said in a statement. 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.”
As of Monday morning, many questions surrounding the flight remained unanswered, including who was responsible and what the migrants were told prior to boarding the flight.
The 16 migrants from Venezuela and Colombia were taken from El Paso, Texas, to New Mexico, and then flown by private chartered plane to Sacramento where they were left on the doorstep of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento on Friday.
Airport records show the flight from Deming, New Mexico, to McClellan Airport near North Highlands was operated by Barry Aviation, a charter service based in San Marcos, Texas.
A representative for Barry Aviation declined to comment Saturday about the flight’s specifics, or who paid for the flight, but described it as a “government flight.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that he and Bonta met with the migrants and were working to get them the assistance that they needed, including legal aid services for their immigration court cases.
The migrants remained in a Sacramento hotel as of Monday, according to PICO California, the statewide faith-based group helping the migrants. Eddie Carmona, campaign director at PICO California, said the group is currently “in the works” of ensuring all the migrants are represented by an attorney.
“We want to make sure that they have legal representation and are good to go in terms of resources, food, all that stuff,” Carmona said. “That’s kind of our priority right now.”