Florida officials could still face charges over migrant flights, Gavin Newsom says
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Florida’s admission that it sent two chartered flights of migrants to California doesn’t mean those involved with the operation won’t face charges, Gov. Gavin Newsom told POLITICO on Tuesday.
In an interview, Newsom dismissed the state of Florida’s description of the transport as part of a voluntary relocation aimed at calling attention to the large numbers of migrants seeking to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Newsom said it appears at least some of the migrants were misled and flown to his state under false pretenses.
“When you have the smoking gun, which is the paperwork in hand that everyone hands over to you, it’s pretty self-evident,” Newsom said.
His comments marked the latest round in an escalating fight between Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — two governors who both won double-digit victories in November, enjoy supermajorities in their respective state legislatures and have sharply divergent politics.
DeSantis, who was in Iowa this week campaigning for president as a hard-right Republican, has directed his state to send migrants to states led by Democrats to protest Biden administration border policies.
Newsom, a President Joe Biden ally, leads a state where migration from Mexico is largely a non-issue to voters.
DeSantis and his administration had initially declined to issue any statements about the flights. Their surprise arrival under mysterious circumstances prompted sharp criticism, and a threat of criminal charges, from Newsom and California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who met with some of the migrants over the weekend.
That threat still stands.
“That’s very serious, and it’s ongoing,” Newsom said of the investigation. “And we’ll make a determination as the facts present themselves.”
“All this does is reinforce the cruelty of this act and the manipulative nature of the act and the stunt that this is — the shameful nature of it,” Newsom added. “We are, we are very serious about pursuing action, if the facts dictate it. And Mr. DeSantis should know that.”
The migrants volunteered to be flown to California, according to a statement from Alecia Collins, the communications director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new,” Collins said. “But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it’s false imprisonment and kidnapping.”
Newsom, who along with his wife visited with a group Saturday, said he reviewed materials they were carrying in hand. The Democratic governor said he also reviewed the court dates that they had pending in jurisdictions across the country. And he said he witnessed supposed waivers they had that were unsigned with the markings of Florida’s office of emergency services.
Newsom made waves Monday after tweeting that DeSantis could face criminal charges after the asylum seekers were flown to Sacramento and left at a Catholic church. It was similar to a flight Florida officials coordinated last fall carrying almost 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a move that reignited debates over immigration and caused national outrage.
Newsom said migrants on Saturday “independently told me similar stories about how they were misled and lied to. … The notion of taking people under false pretense is well established statute,” Newsom added.
He said whether that reaches the legal threshold of kidnapping or a threshold that asserts a misdemeanor in terms of false representation was to be determined by Bonta’s office.
Newsom also took another opportunity to ridicule DeSantis for sending migrants from Texas to California.
“How utterly pathetic it is that a governor from an East Coast state had to hire with tax dollars, staff and a private contractor, to find people in another state to travel them to two states in order to get attention,” Newsom said. “How pathetic is that? And potentially illegal as well.”