California Governor, AG and Texas Sheriff Urge U.S. Dept. of Justice to Investigate Fraudulent and Deceitful Transportation of Asylum Seekers

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By Kristin Trent

SACRAMENTO, CA – California Gov. Gavin Newsom, CA Attorney General Rob Bonta and Bexar County, TX, Sheriff Javier Salazar Thursday urged U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and the U.S. Dept. of Justice to investigate the fraudulent transportation of asylum seekers, initially blaming Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The request comes after mounting media attention exposed the relocation of asylum seekers over the past year.

“It is unconscionable to use people as political props by persuading them to travel to another state based on false or deceptive representations. We urge USDOJ to investigate potential violations of federal law by those involved in this scheme. We stand ready to provide additional information about these flights and look forward to working with the USDOJ on this issue,” according to the letter, 

The letter authors detailed how asylum seekers were transported from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard and Sacramento over the past nine months via a program funded by the State of Florida.

The program, available on the website belonging to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is called Florida’s Freedom First Budget, which allocates $12 million to “facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens out of Florida.”

An initial investigation launched by Salazar about the September 2022 Martha’s Vineyard flight resulted in pending referral for potential criminal prosecution with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, the letter said.

“Results of the investigation have concluded that individuals were induced to accept free travel based on false representations that they would be transported from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard and receive housing, education, and employment opportunities,” the letter stated.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, recruiters actively deceived individuals who traveled to Sacramento on June 2 and 5, 2023, by promising jobs and shelter. Similar instances have been reported by other news outlets, according to the letter.

The letter noted, “It is not uncommon for local jurisdictions and nongovernmental organizations to facilitate onward travel from the border for people to connect with family or friends elsewhere in the United States after they are processed and released by federal immigration officials and are pursuing their immigration cases as required by the law. 

“But this scheme is different: according to news reports, recruiters deceived migrants into taking flights to these particular locations based on promises of jobs and shelter.”

“The California Department of Justice is undergoing criminal and civil investigations regarding the circumstances around these flights,” the letter added, arguing DOJ should also launch federal criminal and civil investigations into the incidents because of the multijurisdictional nature of the alleged “scheme.”

In an interview with Rob Bonta with The Times on Sunday, Bonta suggested Gov. DeSantis was responsible for the plan behind the transportation of asylum seekers.

“This is Gov. DeSantis, this is his baby, this is his project, his fingerprints are all over it,” Bonta said. “The governor signed it, the Legislature approved to fund it in the budget, and they hired Vertol Systems Co., a vendor, to carry out the work.”

He added: “It’s DeSantis being exactly who he is and advertising to the world that he is petty, little … and full of political stunts that hurt, harm and abuse and exploit people to try and get cheap political points. It’s wrong.”

DeSantis has defended the privately contracted flights, according to a recent KCRA article.

“They have endorsed and agitated for these types of open border policies, they have bragged about their sanctuary jurisdiction, they have attacked the previous administration’s efforts to try to have border security,” the Florida governor said about leaders in California and other states that he described as “sanctuary jurisdictions.” 

“So then what? When they have to deal with some of the fruits of that, all of a sudden, they become very, very upset about that?” added DeSantis.

The DOJ has not yet released a public statement in response to the letter.

About The Author

Kristin Trent recently graduated from UC Davis with a degree in English. She is currently involved in production of Davis Media Access's local radio station KDRT 95.7 FM and hosts DCTV's In The Studio Series in addition to her work for The Vanguard. Currently pursuing a full-time position as a journalist, she is deeply devoted to environmental and social justice journalism.

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