Florida officials have shared footage of migrants that the state helped shuttle to California on private jets amid calls for kidnapping charges to be brought against Governor Ron DeSantis.
A video shared by the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) compiled two minutes and 21 seconds of clips showing migrants dancing to music on a bus, signing waivers, and smiling as they posed for photos on a plane.
The video followed a statement by the agency on Tuesday confirming its involvement in two recent flights that carried migrants from New Mexico to California’s capital of Sacramento.
FDEM Communications Director Alecia Collins said that the relocation was “voluntary” and the migrants were taken to a non-profit organisation.
“Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California,” Ms Collins wrote. “A contractor was present and ensured they made it safely to a third party N.G.O. The specific N.G.O., Catholic Charities, is used and funded by the federal government.”
The video shared by the organisation appeared aimed at refuting claims that the migrants had been “kidnapped” against their will.
One clip showed a migrant standing in front of a private jet as he says: “We made it to California, thank you to God!”
In another clip, a group is asked in Spanish: “At any point did you feel like you were treated poorly?”
“No, they treated us very well,” one person replies.
BREAKING: The State of Florida just released a video purporting to show the migrants they just flew to CA for the purpose of claiming they went voluntarily and were not kidnapped. pic.twitter.com/Ge8yJfUiSF
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) June 6, 2023
Mr Newsom called Mr DeSantis a "small, pathetic man" in a tweet on Monday, and then provided a snippet of the state's laws regarding kidnapping.
"Every person who, being out of this state, abducts or takes by force or fraud any person contrary to the law of the place where that act is committed, and brings, sends, or conveys that person within the limits of the state, and is afterwards found within the limits thereof, is guilty of kidnapping," the snippet reads.
The migrants from Venezuela and Colombia arrived in Sacramento on two private jet flights, one on Friday carrying 16 and another on Monday carrying 20. The migrants were left at a Catholic facility in Sacramento with "no prior arrangement or care in place," according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Speaking to the New York Times after the video’s release, Mr Bonta said Florida officials and Mr DeSantis were “accepting blame for their reprehensible and morally bankrupt conduct”.
He added that the migrants who arrived in Sacramento on Friday were left “dazed and confused, violated and hurt on the doorstep of an archdiocese that wasn’t even open”.
California officials learned the migrants crossed into Texas, where they were approached by an individual who said they could help them, according to local broadcaster KXTV. The migrants were reportedly sent to New Mexico before they were flown to Sacramento. Officials found the migrants holding documents claiming to be from the state of Florida when they arrived in California.
Mr Bonta said the migrants confirmed they had been approached in Texas by a Florida-based contractor, Vertol Systems Company, that “falsely represented the transport as a way to obtain desperately needed employment,” the Times reported.
“It was a lie,” Mr Bonta told the outlet. “It was false. You can’t consent based on deception.”
Mr Bonta had previously said the state is investigating the incident and "evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants."
“While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting.” He said both the state and the city would “welcome these individuals with open arms and provide them with the respect, compassion, and care they will need after such a harrowing experience.”
Mr DeSantis pulled a similar stunt last year when he flew more around 50 primarily Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, where they were told jobs and access to migrant services would be provided. Vetrol Systems Company was also involved in those flights.
The GOP governor and other Republicans who support the flights argue that states like New York and California offering themselves up as "sanctuary" states invites illegal immigration.
The Independent has reached out to Mr DeSantis for comment.
Mr Newsom's spokesperson Anthony York said the administration “continues to work with the California Department of Justice as they investigate the circumstances behind these flights and will look to hold anyone criminally accountable for misleading, manipulating and transporting individuals under false pretenses. In California we work together to humanely welcome migrants, support our local communities and address the challenges of a broken immigration system with dignity and without stunts.”
The migrants are being served by a local faith-based group in Sacramento and will be processed by US immigration services, according to Deadline.