ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (HPD) — Officials in Florida began planning to move migrants to other states in July, telling potential contractors their task would be to relocate them on a voluntary basis, according to documents. of the state.
Documents released Friday to The Associated Press and other media organizations offer new details about the program that culminated in the Sept. 14 flight of 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, a island off Massachusetts for the wealthy.
The flight prompted an investigation by a Texas sheriff and two lawsuits, amid criticism that the show was a political ploy by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, to appeal to his conservative base.
DeSantis is running for re-election this year and has been mentioned frequently as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024. His office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Saturday.
According to the documents, the program outlined in July sought to “assist the voluntary relocation of Unauthorized Aliens who are found in Florida and who have agreed to be relocated” to other parts of the country. It does not mention the finding of migrants in Texas.
One of the Florida contractors not selected, Gun Girls Procurement Solutions Inc., offered to charge $26,000 to transport a minimum of five people and a security officer to Massachusetts. Another contractor that provided pricing options was a New York-based charter company called Wheels Up, according to the documents.
In the end, state officials chose Destin, Fla.-based Vertol Systems Co., and have so far paid the firm $1.56 million for the flight to Martha’s Vineyard and possibly a second flight to Delaware. the state of President Joe Biden, which did not take place. No other flights have been announced.
The documents show that an Ohio charter company, Ultimate Jet Charters, was subcontracted to take the migrants from Texas for a brief stopover in Crestview, Florida, and from there to Martha’s Vineyard.
In Massachusetts, meanwhile, authorities said Friday that all Venezuelan migrants, who have applied for asylum in the United States, left temporary shelter at a military base on Cape Cod.
In an emailed statement, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration said it is “grateful for the collaborative efforts among various state agencies and nonprofit organizations to ensure that every individual receives needed humanitarian resources and access to new housing options.” ”.
Some of the migrants have sued DeSantis and other Florida officials in federal court in Boston, saying they were victims of “a fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to relocate them.
Florida Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo also filed a lawsuit in state court in Tallahassee alleging the flight to Massachusetts is a violation of state law, in part because the migrants were not in Florida at the time. The legislature authorized $12 million for the relocation program that specifically addresses migrants within Florida’s borders.
Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.