Gov. Ron DeSantis declined on Wednesday to directly address California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s criticism of a pair of controversial migrant flights from Florida, while also defending them and railing against a “crisis” on the U.S. southern border,
Speaking during a roundtable in Sierra Vista, Ariz., alongside a group of sheriffs, DeSantis accused President Biden and his administration of blatantly ignoring immigration laws and abdicating their national security duties, calling on individual states and local law enforcement to fill a “void” left by the federal government.
Yet he made no direct mention of his state’s decision to fly two groups of migrants — most of them from Venezuela — to Sacramento, Calif., in recent days. He also declined to directly address criticism from Newsom, who on Monday called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” and floated the possibility of kidnapping charges against Florida officials for their role in the flights.
The first flight landed in Sacramento on Friday, while a second planeload of migrants arrived in the city on Monday. California officials, including the state’s Democratic attorney general, blamed DeSantis and his administration for the arrivals, claiming that the migrants carried papers indicating that they came from Florida.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management confirmed on Tuesday that the state was behind the flights, but pushed back against the suggestion that the stunts amounted to kidnapping. In confirming the state’s role in the flights, officials provided a video apparently showing that the individuals who were relocated did so voluntarily.
“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new,” Alecia Collins, a spokesperson for the division said in a statement. “But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it’s false imprisonment and kidnapping.”
Still, DeSantis didn’t tout his state’s role in the flights on Wednesday, choosing instead to stick to broader themes of border security and the dangers posed by illegal immigration. He also hammered “sanctuary” cities and states, like California, arguing that they’ve contributed to the influx of undocumented immigrants, who have come over the southern border.
“That’s the policies that they’ve staken out,” DeSantis said. “And then what? When they have to deal with some of the fruits of that, they all of a sudden become very, very upset about that.”
DeSantis also suggested that states like California are more alluring for migrants, arguing they often provide benefits regardless of legal status.
“You can see why some people, when they’re coming illegally — a place like California, they give benefits, they give unemployment checks,” he said.
The flights to Sacramento weren’t the first instance of DeSantis’s administration paying to transport migrants to bluer areas. Last year, state officials helped fly dozens of migrants from San Antonio, Texas to the elite Massachusetts resort town of Martha’s Vineyard.
DeSantis, who’s just two weeks into a 2024 presidential bid, has mentioned that decision on the campaign trail in recent days. At a recent event in Iowa, he boasted about sending “illegal aliens to beautiful Martha’s Vineyard.”
The Florida governor has made border security and illegal immigration a key theme of his nascent 2024 campaign, vowing to complete the border wall promised by former President Donald Trump and blaming Biden for a worsening “mass-migration” crisis.
Discussing the U.S. southern border at the roundtable event in Arizona on Wednesday, DeSantis was blunt.
“I think the whole thing needs to be shut down,” he said.