TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Texas to Florida to South Carolina to Massachusetts: That’s the path about 50 migrants took through the United States on two planes, due to spending and transportation efforts by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week.
Florida’s officials described them as “unauthorized” or “illegal aliens” in a combination of statements and documents related to the transportation effort.
The money to spirit them out of Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., was a $12 million line item from the latest Florida state budget, but it’s unclear if the money, used in this way, was legitimately set aside for this particular series of events. In the 2022-2023 fiscal budget for Florida, House Bill 5001, state legislators set aside the funds with a single paragraph.
From the interest earnings associated with the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund (Public Law 117-2), the nonrecurring sum of $12,000,000 from the General Revenue Fund is appropriated to the Department of Transportation for Fiscal Year 2021-2022, for implementing a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law. The department may, upon the receipt of at least two quotes, negotiate and enter into contracts with private parties, including common carriers, to implement the program. The department may enter into agreements with any applicable federal agency to implement the program. The term “unauthorized alien” means a person who is unlawfully present in the United States according to the terms of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. ss. 1101 et seq. The term shall be interpreted consistently with any applicable federal statutes, rules, or regulations. The unexpended balance of funds appropriated to the department in this section remaining as of June 30, 2022, shall revert and is appropriated for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 to the department for the same purpose. This section shall take effect upon becoming a law.HB 5001: General Appropriations Act of 2022, Section 185
What that paragraph, allocating the $12 million, does not say is that the money may be used to take migrants out of Texas, to Florida, and then elsewhere. According to the text of the budget legislation, the $12 million also comes from interest earned on federal funds intended to help with COVID-19 pandemic recovery.
According to the governor’s director of communications, Taryn Fenske, the effort was part of Florida’s immigration relocation program.
“Florida’s immigration relocation program aims to interdict human smugglers, traffickers, or other criminal aliens found within the state, as well as prevent illegal aliens at the southern border from entering Florida,” Fenske said in a Sept. 16 statement. The program is bigger than relocation support, according to Fenske, but will also work with Florida’s anti-immigration “law enforcement strike force,” among other efforts.
Discussing the recent transportation of migrants, Fenske also said the move came after state officials learned “as many as 40% of individuals crossing the border express a desire to reach Florida. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security recently provided data to confirm 160,000 immigrants at the southern border identified Florida as their end destination.”
Even if preemptive, the budget allocation of $12 million does not state it will pay for transportation to Florida first, only out of Florida to sanctuary states or cities. The governor’s office said that as Florida is itself not a sanctuary state, it will “continue to facilitate a program to assist the transportation of illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities and states across the country.”
After the migrants arrived in Martha’s Vineyard, Gov. DeSantis spoke in Daytona Beach, but did not directly say whether any of the migrants had even gotten off one of the planes from Texas while in the Florida Panhandle, before stopping in Spartanburg, S.C.
DeSantis said Friday there would likely be more flights.
“The legislature gave me $12 million. We’re going to spend every penny of that to make sure we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in Daytona.
The governor’s opponent in the November midterms, Charlie Crist (D), came out against the decision and asked the state for records about the transport, while DeSantis himself said Friday there would likely be more flights.
“My faith teaches me that we’re all children of God…That is lost on Ron DeSantis. For him it’s always putting politics over peoples’ lives,” Crist said in a recent advertisement. “Lying to migrant children to lure them onto a plane to God knows where, treating families fleeing brutal socialist regimes like cattle, mocking their fight for freedom — it makes me sick — but sadly it’s not surprising. It’s who he is.”
The flights from Texas to Florida to South Carolina to finally end up in Massachusetts may have cost Florida taxpayers more than $600,000. A flight expert told WFLA.com that the “ballpark” cost was likely 4230,000 per flight, but a report by Transparency Florida, a government site, showed $615,000 was paid to Vertol Systems Inc. by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The reason listed was “relocation program of unauthorized aliens.” In terms of line item, the effort was paid for on Sept. 8, with the general revenue note reading “special categories” and coming from FDOT’s “Highway Operations” program, according to the state site.
Should each use of the $12 million total cost the same amount, the non-recurring funding will be used up after nearly 20 trips, based on cost versus total budget allocation. Of course, it’s possible state lawmakers choose to appropriate more to the program in the 2023 legislative session, or hold a special session to do something similar. Neither option has been ruled out, or proposed, at this point.