Sixteen migrants from Venezuela and Colombia were taken from El Paso, Texas, to New Mexico, and then flown by private chartered plane to Sacramento where they were left on the doorstep of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that he and Attorney General Rob Bonta met with the migrants, and that he is working with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s office as well as area nonprofits “to ensure the people who have arrived are treated with respect and dignity, and get to their intended destination as they pursue their immigration cases.”
“My administration is also working with the California Department of Justice to investigate the circumstances around who paid for the group’s travel and whether the individuals orchestrating this trip misled anyone with false promises or have violated any criminal laws, including kidnapping,” Newsom said.
Steinberg likened the act to human smuggling.
“Whoever is behind this must answer the following: Is there anything more cruel than using scared human beings to score cheap political points?” Steinberg said in a statement. “Sacramento represents the best of American values. We always welcome ‘the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses,’ and we always will.”
Sacramento ACT, a collaboration of area religious congregations, said in a statement that after being processed at the border, the migrants were approached by “individuals representing a private contractor” who said they would assist them with getting to a migrant center where they would find jobs and free support.
‘They deserve to be treated better’
The migrants, upon arriving in Sacramento, had no idea where they were and “only a backpack’s worth of belongings,” Sacramento ACT said.
The group said that the migrants all have pending court appearances, and that by transporting them to California under false pretenses, there will be a disruption in their legal due process.
“What has occurred recently with the deceiving drop off of our undocumented brothers and sisters into the Sacramento area grieves my heart. This political polarizing act is heartbreaking and yet I rejoice that I am part of a movement that brings the love of God and goodwill upon the injustices and political wickedness that impacts our vulnerable brothers and sisters,” said the Rev. Efrem Smith, Sacramento ACT president, in a statement.
Rabbi Mona Alfi, of Congregation B’nai Israel, said that what happened to the migrants was “a moral travesty” and that “these are human beings, no different than you or me, who simply want to take care of their families and live a peaceful life, and they deserve to be treated better.”
Eddie Carmona, director of campaigns for PICO California, a faith-based community organizing group, said in a statement that the migrants “are members of our families, communities, and part of the fabric of our state.”
Flight chartered to McClellan
Airport records from tracking website FlightAware show only one flight between New Mexico and any of the Sacramento-area airports on Friday: A three-hour, 11-minute flight from Deming Municipal Airport in Luna County, about 80 miles northwest of El Paso, to McClellan Airport near North Highlands.
A representative for Barry Aviation, a charter service based in San Marcos, Texas, that operated the de Havilland Dash 8 used to ferry the migrants, declined to comment about specifics but described it as a “government flight”: “(It’s) something that the government ran.”
This is not the first time that migrants have been flown to California’s capital.
In September 2022, eight Venezuelan migrants, who had crossed the U.S. border at Laredo, Texas, were flown to Sacramento, according to the Los Angeles Times.
New chapter in battle between GOP, Newsom
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, have in the past taken credit for busing or flying migrants to various places in the U.S., including New York, Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, D.C.
The Sacramento Bee has reached out to both governors’ offices to inquire whether one of them was responsible for this most recent flight.
DeSantis, who announced his 2024 presidential bid last month and has been heavily criticized for his hardline stance on immigration, is expected to come to Sacramento himself on June 19 for a fundraising breakfast priced at $3,300 a seat.
Newsom has spoken out — and aired ads in Florida — against DeSantis, whom he labeled “America’s chief bully,” since they were both elected in 2018.