DeSantis, Florida Republican leaders to consider expanding migrant flight program during special session


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to use a special session this week to broaden the state’s migrant flight program after transporting some 50, mostly Venezuelan, migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last year, sparking uproar in the wealthy, liberal Massachusetts enclave that touted support for sanctuary policies.

Republican leaders of the legislature, in coordination with DeSantis on Friday, ordered lawmakers to convene for a special session this week to consider legislation creating what would be known as the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program. Other items on the agenda include dealing with Disney’s self-governing Reedy Creek Improvement District as well as the prosecution of election crimes. 

“The Legislature finds that the U.S. Government has failed to secure the nation’s border and has allowed a surge of unauthorized aliens to enter the United States in violation of the law,” according to the governor’s budget recommendation. “This crisis has brought detrimental effects including crime, drug trafficking and smuggling, diminished economic opportunities and wages for American workers, and burdens on the education and healthcare system. The federal government has proven itself unwilling to address this crisis. To mitigate the effects of this crisis on the state of Florida, there is hereby created the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program within the Department of Transportation for the purpose of facilitating the transport of inspected unauthorized aliens, within the United States, consistent with federal law.” 


In separate memos Friday, state House Speaker Paul Renner and state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, both Republicans, said the program came in response to an “influx of migrants landing in the Florida Keys,” Politico reported. In recent weeks, hundreds of migrants mostly from Cuba and Haiti have been arriving in the Florida Keys, prompting DeSantis to mobilize the Florida National Guard. 

DeSantis already has received $12 million in his annual budget for the migrant program, drawing dollars from COVID-19 federal relief funds. 

However, because the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, filed a lawsuit alleging DeSantis violated a spending provision requiring that those funds only be used for the removal of migrants from Florida. DeSantis’ proposal for the new program asks for another $12 million in funding. 

The Florida governor is facing several lawsuits over the pair of flights to Martha’s Vineyard, including litigation brought by the Center for Government Accountability as well as the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights. Yet, the Biden administration has also reportedly quietly chartered migrant flights to areas including suburban New York.

Citing documents, Politico reported that the company Vertol Systems secured a state contract through the Florida Department of Transportation to fly migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in late September. The estimated cost was $90,000 per migrant relocated. 

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