A second plane carrying migrants arrived in Sacramento on Monday, according to California officials who say the transportation was arranged by the state of Florida.
Over the weekend, more than a dozen migrants from South America were flown on a chartered jet from New Mexico and dropped off in Sacramento.
Documents carried by the migrants appear to show that the weekend flight was arranged through the Florida Division of Emergency Management and that it was part of the state’s program to relocate migrants, mostly from Texas, to other states, California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said.
The contractor for the program is Vertol Systems Co., which coordinated similar flights that took dozens of Venezuelan asylum seekers from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last year, he said.
On Monday, Bonta’s office said a second plane carrying roughly 20 people landed in Sacramento.
“Special agents from the California Department of Justice are on the ground and have made contact with these individuals,” the office said in a statement. “The contractor operating the flight that arrived today appears to be the same contractor who transported the migrants last week. As was the case with the migrants who arrived on Friday, the migrants who arrived today carried documents indicating that their transportation to California involved the state of Florida.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office did not return calls or emails from The Times seeking comment, and it’s unclear what role, if any, the GOP presidential candidate may have had in the flight.
But Bonta said the responsibility lay with DeSantis.
In an interview with The Times on Sunday, Bonta didn’t mince words in blaming DeSantis, who only last week became a candidate for president, for the latest incident.
“This is Gov. DeSantis, this is his baby, this is his project, his fingerprints are all over it,” Bonta said. “The governor signed it, the Legislature approved to fund it in the budget, and they hired Vertol Systems Co., a vendor, to carry out the work.”
He added: “It’s DeSantis being exactly who he is and advertising to the world that he is petty, little … and full of political stunts that hurt, harm and abuse and exploit people to try and get cheap political points. It’s wrong.”
Calls to Vertol and the Florida Division of Emergency Management were not returned.
The 16 migrants from Venezuela and Colombia on the first flight were initially transported by bus from El Paso to New Mexico, where they boarded a plane to Sacramento, officials said. They were dropped off at the doorstep of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento on Friday.
Their arrival, for which no politician or organization has yet to publicly claim responsibility, adds fuel to a controversy over similar ploys by conservative politicians in Republican-led states.
They and their supporters have said the efforts are aimed at raising awareness of the influx of migrants over the southern border and bringing the issue to the doorsteps of authorities in states led by Democrats. Opponents describe the moves as cruel political stunts that use immigrants as pawns and leave them many miles from family, resources and even the courthouses where they are often expected to appear to plead their cases for asylum.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement on Saturday that he and Bonta, also a Democrat, met on Saturday with more than 12 of the migrants. Newsom added that his office and the California Department of Justice were working together “to investigate the circumstances around who paid for the group’s travel and whether the individuals orchestrating this trip misled anyone with false promises or have violated any criminal laws, including kidnapping.”
Bonta’s office is investigating, he confirmed. He said his office would be “evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants.”
Bonta said Sunday the migrants — most of them from Venezuela — told officials that they were promised jobs and that someone would assist them in finding work. Instead, the group was dropped off at the Catholic diocese. When someone at the diocese opened the door, two men said they would return but instead drove off, leaving the group of migrants behind, Bonta said.
“They never intended to help them find a job but told them that they would do that so they could get on the plane and sign their documents and be transported to Sacramento,” Bonta said. “They completely exploited, abused and manipulated these folks who were vulnerable and were hoping and dreaming of a job and told they would be helped finding that job only to be abandoned.”
Bonta said the migrants are receiving legal aid services as some of them have immigration court dates in the coming days. Some of the court dates are as far as New York and Chicago.
“They’re nowhere near Sacramento,” he said.
Bonta spoke about one migrant he met. He said the man, who is from Venezuela, played a voicemail from his 9-year-old daughter, who told her father in Spanish that she was hungry because she hadn’t eaten in a day. She said that her mother was sick and that they needed help.
The man didn’t come to the U.S. for handouts, Bonta said, recalling the conversation. He came for a job so he could provide for his family back home, he said.
The situation in Sacramento is playing out against a backdrop of intense national debate over how to handle the influx of migrants who enter the U.S. across the Mexican border each year. That debate has come to a head in response to similar efforts championed and supported by Republican governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas and DeSantis that have displaced thousands of migrants and generated widespread controversy in recent years.
In September, Abbott bused about 100 migrants to Washington, D.C., where they were dropped off outside the U.S. Naval Observatory, the home of Vice President Kamala Harris. That same month, DeSantis — who is now a top contender for the GOP presidential nomination — sent a group of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy liberal haven off the coast of Massachusetts. Also last year, eight Venezuelan migrants were flown from Texas to Sacramento. Activists said that move was not part of Abbott’s or DeSantis’ efforts.
Newsom has made a habit of attacking DeSantis and Abbott over a host of issues that divide the nation, including immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control and abortion. He launched a political action committee this year aimed at supporting Democrats running in red states. In a video announcing the effort, Newsom said “authoritarian leaders” are a problem for the country as images of DeSantis and Abbott flash across the screen.
Jaime Soto, bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, said in a statement Saturday that the diocese is working with other groups to help the new arrivals.
“The urgency to respond was heard by Catholics and people of goodwill,” he said. “We are thankful to our partner organizations who took up the holy work of hospitality, dedicating their time and resources to ensure that every migrant did not feel alone and abandoned.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg called for an investigation into the latest incident in a Saturday statement.
“Human trafficking is not only despicable; it’s a felony. … Whoever is behind this must answer the following: Is there anything more cruel than using scared human beings to score cheap political points?” he said.
Steinberg’s statement made clear that the city will continue to be a welcoming place for disadvantaged people like the 16 migrants who arrived there Friday.
“Sacramento represents the best of American values,” he said. “We always welcome ‘the tired, the poor and the huddled masses,’ and we always will.”
Times staff writer Lila Seidman contributed to this report.