California officials are investigating a flight of migrants to Sacramento

Sixteen immigrants from Venezuela and Colombia suddenly flew to California on a private plane and were dropped off Friday outside a church building in Sacramento, accusing a contractor for a state-funded Florida program of transporting the group from outside Texas. Immigrant center under false promise of jobs if immigrants agree to take them to California.

“We believe it’s Florida,” California Attorney General Rob Ponta said in an interview Sunday, citing documents shown to immigration officials upon arrival that said their trip was “managed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management” and its contractor, Verdol Systems.

Mr. Trump, who is investigating the episode, said he approached the immigrants, who were not fluent in English, outside El Paso and told them in “broken Spanish” to sign documents as a condition of boarding a flight to Sacramento. Ponta’s office said. But not everyone understood where they were going and not everyone signed up.

The episode reflected an aggressive tactic used by hard-line Republican governors to protest President Biden’s immigration policies by sending dozens of immigrants to Democratic-led states and cities with little explanation or warning. Verdol Systems was used by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to transport two South American immigrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, a Democratic-leaning Massachusetts island, in the fall.

Verdol’s representatives and Republican Mr. DeSantis, who has made immigration a central theme of his campaign for president, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On the campaign trail, Mr. DeSantis, who has publicly traded blows with California Gov. Kevin Newsom over immigration, often touts his decision to send immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. from the Democratic Party. Bonda and Mr. Both Newsom met with the immigrants on Saturday and promised to take care of them while they are in the state.

On Sunday, Mr.

He vowed to aggressively pursue the possibility of criminal or civil charges against traffickers, calling the move “morally bankrupt.”

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“To be clear, the state of Florida used its budget to move immigrants in Texas to New Mexico and California,” he said. “These are immigrants who were never in Florida.”

California, working with the city of Sacramento and local nonprofits, Mr. Newsom said in a statement. . Several nonprofits in Sacramento also confirmed they spoke with immigrants.

Mr. Bonda said. His family.

A person, Mr. Bonda read to him a voicemail message in Spanish from his 9-year-old daughter: “Daddy, I’m hungry — we didn’t eat today,” the attorney general translated the message. “Mom is sick.”

The 16 migrants were approached outside a migrant center near El Paso, who said they were there on behalf of a private contractor who could help them get jobs, shelter, clothing and other necessities. , according to state and nonprofit officials.

They read the documents shared with immigration officials, saying they agreed to “participate in the State of Florida’s Voluntary Transit Program” and were instructed to sign and provide initial waivers, Mr. Ponta said, adding that “the project is managed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management” and “the contractor for this project is Verdol Systems Company Inc.”

The waivers, which echo documents carried by immigrants in previous transportation cases, don’t mention jobs, he said, and Florida and Verdol have no liability.

For Florida officials to argue that immigrants have given informed consent, Mr. Mr. DeSantis said he would cite documents. Bonda said. argued After the episode in Martha’s Vineyard. But Mr. Ponta added that they “were not fully informed and it was not fully consented.”

The migrants were then transported to New Mexico and flown on a chartered plane to Sacramento, where they were taken to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. Left outside the administration building for the church, the migrants had backpacks of belongings, little information about where they were and a promise that someone would come get them.

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“People I’ve talked to — they feel like they’ve been lied to; some of them have said they’ve been abandoned,” said Cecilia Flores, who works with community organization Sacramento ACT. “They can’t understand why anyone would do that.”

He said the group contained no children and appeared to consist of young women and men in their 40s. Many of them are seeking asylum in the United States, but he doesn’t know any of the immigrants. Go to Sacramento.

Sacramento ACT and other organizations work to help immigrants find a safe home and help them with their next steps. Many of the immigrants have court appointments elsewhere in the country, and some have out-of-state court dates within the next two weeks, Mr. Bonda said.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, said he was “heartbroken” by the attorney general’s investigation and said “whoever is behind this should be held accountable.”

This is the second time in recent months that migrants have been trafficked from Texas to Sacramento. In September, a small group of Venezuelans crossing the border from Laredo to New York, Florida and Utah were shown outside the Catholic Charities building in the California capital.

They had documents that led them to local offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but officials could not determine who sent them. Many walked the 10 miles from Sacramento International Airport, some without shoes.

Data from FlightAware, a website that tracks flights nationwide, shows a direct flight between Deming Municipal Airport in Luna County, NM and Sacramento McClellan Airport that landed about three hours after 11 a.m. Friday. A representative of Perry Aviation, a charter service based in San Marcos, Texas, told The Sacramento Bee The flight was “government-operated,” but would not comment further.

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Verdol, the company that allegedly brought the immigrants to Sacramento, is a Destin, Fla.-based airline and defense contractor. It has ties to Republican leaders in Florida. Mr. One of DeSantis’ key aides was Larry KeefeA former US attorney, he previously represented the company in litigation Presided over Migratory Flight Scheme of the State.

Like Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas who sent busloads of migrants to Washington and New York last year, Mr. DeSantis sent dozens of South American immigrants to a pro-democracy state in an attention-grabbing effort. At that time the arrival of settlers on the southern frontier.

Martha’s Vineyard, former President Barack Obama’s vacation home, Mr. DeSantis took aim. Mr. Airport near Biden’s Delaware home. (The flight to Delaware was canceled.)

The 49 migrants aboard Martha’s Vineyard charter flights operated by Verdol say they were tricked into boarding the plane by promising them help when they landed. But no one on the ground knew they were coming, sending local officials to provide food and shelter, sparking a nationwide backlash.

The migrants, many of whom were among the millions fleeing a devastating economic crisis in Venezuela, have since Mr. DeSantis and other state officials sued, which is still pending. The immigrant flight program costs at least $1.5 million in taxpayer money, state records show.

But Mr. DeSantis and his Republican allies in Florida have since doubled down. Lawmakers voted this year to expand the state’s migrant flight program, authorizing a $12 million budget, and the state recently was employed Three private contractors, including Verdol, organized the project.

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