LLast week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis paid a private charter company to fly migrants from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. As more facts emerged about how migrants were tricked into boarding these flights, a civil lawsuit has already been filed against DeSantis seeking damages on behalf of the migrants. He can also be prosecuted.
Politics and elected office aside, it is unlawful to entice people to travel by lying to them about their destination and making false promises about the benefits available upon arrival. But DeSantis’ actions weren’t just the conduct of a person who rented a private plane and enticed people to travel out of state. They were efforts by a Republican Red State governor to protest federal immigration law and policy by shipping migrants to a progressive state to stir up trouble there.
DeSantis’ flights are similar to trips sponsored by other Red State Republican governors this summer. For months, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have rented buses to ferry migrants from their states to Illinois, New York and Washington, D.C. states and cities.
President Biden and others have derided these trips, as well as those arranged by DeSantis, as “political stunts.” They are rather unsettling. They are lawless acts, willful attempts by some states, acting through their governors, to violate the fundamental premise and purpose of union as set forth in the US Constitution.
States have always had to find ways to coexist, even if they have different interests or political preferences. The constitution itself was adopted to resolve difficulties in the coordination of states on matters such as national defense, the conduct of foreign affairs, the creation of a common currency, and the financing of a national government. The federal courts, also created by the Constitution and further developed by Congress, provide another avenue by which states can peacefully and lawfully settle their differences by adjudicating specific disputes that arise between them. Even before such struggles lead to complaints, states and individuals sometimes have to negotiate terms of cooperation with each other. There is an established legal mechanism for this, known as an intergovernmental treaty. It, too, has its roots in the United States Constitution, which has been interpreted by federal courts to lay down ground rules to ensure that such intergovernmental agreements have the consent of the federal government.
Texas, Arizona and Florida are all already involved in numerous interstate pacts, covering everything from multi-state lotteries to water distribution to child custody and adoption to professional licensing. Had Abbott, Ducey and DeSantis attempted to develop interstate mechanisms for housing asylum seekers and other legal migrants, they could have reached out to their counterparts in other states to work out an agreed plan.
Instead, Abbott, Ducey and now DeSantis have chosen to ambush sister state governments by surprising them with the arrival of busloads and planeloads of migrants at unannounced times and places. They have turned down requests from mayors in other states to work together. The buses and planes dispatched by Abbott, Ducey and DeSantis unload their passengers where they receive the most press coverage or cause inconvenience and difficulty to local residents and government aides.
The US Constitution does not specifically prohibit a state from willfully stirring up disorder in another. But attempts to do so undermine a fundamental premise for coming together in a legal union: peaceful, cooperative coexistence among states, and between them and the federal government. As state governors, Ducey, Abbott, and DeSantis have acted unconstitutionally, even unconstitutionally. Although they have not launched armed attacks on other states or the federal government, they have shown their refusal to participate in the fundamental design and ambition of America’s constitutional union. This is a step towards secession.
More must-read stories from TIME