Leading Florida Democrats asked the House Speaker and their state budget chief Monday to formally object to the use of taxpayer money to fund the transportation of migrants from one part of the country to another. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he agreed last week when immigrants were flown there to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas.
The Florida Legislature this summer approved $12 million in funding for the Department of Transportation to send “unauthorized aliens” out of the state. It was this program that DeSantis said funded two private planes that dropped 50 Venezuelans on a small island just off the coast of Massachusetts.
- Continue reading: What is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ resettlement program? Here’s what you need to know
Florida House Minority Leader Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, said taxpayers would be left with a $615,000 bill to fly the 50 migrants to Massachusetts. Florida public records, first reported by the Miami Herald, show that the state paid that amount to Vertol Systems Company, Inc. for a “relocation program for unauthorized aliens” a week before DeSantis paid the loans to fly to Martha’s Vineyard claimed.
“These people were not in the state of Florida. They were in Texas. They didn’t come to the state of Florida, but that money was spent on something that doesn’t make Floridanans safer,” Jenne said at a news conference Monday morning. “It’s not going to lower the cost of living, which is what we’re seeing right now during a crisis in the state.”
In a letter to House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Appropriations Committee chairs Rep. Jay Trumbull, Jenne and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the new minority leader, said the migrants were “taken away” from Texas, brought to Florida and then sent to Massachusetts for “political purposes.”
- Continue reading: Did Gov. DeSantis break the law with his Martha’s Vineyard stunt? Legal experts want the Justice Department to get involved
The two Democrats called on Sprowls and Trumbull to object to spending, which they can do under a portion of Florida law that allows legislative leaders to object to actions by agencies that “exceed their delegated powers.” ‘ or ‘violating legislative policy’. ”
“While we can debate what Section 185 was actually intended to do, it is crystal clear that it was not intended to use federal funds to ship migrants into the state just so they could be deported to Massachusetts,” the statement reads the letter. “This law is clearly at odds with the policy set out in the budget.”
Sprowls and Trumbull’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.
At a Friday news conference, DeSantis criticized President Joe Biden’s immigration policies, saying, “It’s not until 50 illegal aliens end up in a very wealthy, rich, safe enclave that he decides to go for it.”
“I think what we continue to do is use every tool at our disposal to protect the state of Florida from the ill effects of its reckless border policies,” he said. “And yes, that includes helping with transportation.”
But Jenne and Driskell dispute the claim that the 50 migrants who landed in Massachusetts intended to travel to Florida, arguing that “claiming that these people intended to come to Florida is not sufficient reason to intercept, to deceive and transport asylum seekers two thousand miles.”
Citing national media coverage and possible lawsuits, Jenne and Driskell called on Republican lawmakers to “stop this improper use of taxpayers’ money before it happens again.”
“We must act to limit the damage being done to desperate people and to the reputation of the great state of Florida,” the letter said.
Several Martha’s Vineyard officials told MassLive they were briefed just 20 minutes before two planes carrying Venezuelan migrants landed on the island. The jets departed from San Antonio, Texas before stopping in Florida and eventually continuing to Massachusetts.
The move to send the group north has drawn national attention — outrage from Democrats and support from Republicans, who say the situation at the border is dire and needs to be fixed. It has also prompted local and national groups to consider lawsuits against the DeSantis government.
When the migrants arrived on an island of 17,000 year-round residents, a small community also came together to provide immediate shelter, food, medical care and legal assistance. A local state official said the group encountered “not chaos, but compassion.”
For at least one man on the plane, landing on Martha’s Vineyard ended a journey that began in Venezuela and continued through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico before finally swimming across the Rio Grande to the United States River in Texas.
The group left the island on Friday after Gov. Charlie Baker opened up areas of Joint Base Cape Cod for temporary housing and activated 125 members of the state’s National Guard to help.
In a statement on Sunday, the Baker government said the transition to the mainland was “voluntary”.
“The dormitory-style space at JBCC allows organizers to create dedicated living areas for families staying together as a unit, women and anyone with special needs, including medical care,” the statement said. “Having a dedicated space for these groups ensures their continued security and privacy.”