The budget language that appropriated the money for Florida’s migrant relocation program would not permit two flights this week, for which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has claimed credit, or the relocation of some of the migrants recruited for them, CNN has learned.
Two planes carrying about 50 migrants arrived at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts earlier this week. The DeSantis’ administration had secured $12 million in the state budget to pay for migrant relocation, and the governor had repeatedly threatened to use the money to send them to liberal strongholds.
DeSantis said he arranged for the two flights which landed in Massachusetts, but the migrants had actually been in Texas.
Florida’s migrant relocation program, according to the budget language which DeSantis signed into law, says the program should move migrants who are “unlawfully present” in the United States “from this state,” meaning the flights from Texas to Massachusetts would not have been covered by the budget, language and anyone relocated as part of the program was not legally allowed to be in the US.
Martha Vineyard’s airport director Geoffrey Freeman said Wednesday’s flights originated in San Antonio, Texas.
And CNN spoke with more than a dozen migrants on the flights, who also affirmed they were transported from San Antonio, not Florida. They also said they were Venezuelan citizens seeking asylum and applying for refugee status, and showed CNN court papers for future asylum determination proceedings.
Federal law, cited in the Florida budget language, dictates those migrants who have future asylum determination proceedings are lawfully present in the US until a federal judge makes a determination otherwise.
As questions and criticism swirl as to why Florida’s governor used state funds to transport migrants from Texas to Massachusetts, DeSantis said the flights were organized for people who were “trying to come to Florida and then offering them free transportation to sanctuary jurisdictions.”
None of the migrants CNN spoke to said they had any desire or plans to travel to Florida.
Although flight data from FlightRadar 24 and FlightAware did show the two planes carrying the migrants making a quick stop in Crestview, Florida, public records obtained by CNN showed the plane was refueled at the airport.
Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for the governor, sent CNN a statement saying the relocation program aims to stop human smugglers and traffics “found within the state” in addition to preventing migrants, “at the southern border from entering Florida.”
Fenske reiterated the state would continue the relocation program.
DeSantis also said in a news conference Friday he intended to use “every penny” of the $12 million his state budgeted to relocate migrants and set the expectation for buses and “likely more” flights full of migrants paid for by Florida.
He defended using taxpayers dollars to send the migrants to Massachusetts because he said many people who cross the border end up in Florida, adding there are also people working for his state who are in Texas to “profile” individuals who are likely headed to Florida.