Sen. Mitch McConnell: Ron DeSantis 'helped' migrants with his Martha's Vineyard stunt

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday indicated he liked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' controversial stunt that sent 48 migrants to Martha's Vineyard last week under what several of the migrants and immigration attorneys have said were false pretenses.

At a news conference in Washington, D.C., McConnell − who's married to an immigrant, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao − acknowledged "there's been a good deal of talk about what some of the governors have done to transport illegal immigrants up to other parts of the country.

"I personally thought it was a good idea," he said Tuesday afternoon. "But if you added up all of the (immigrants) who've been taken to Chicago or Washington or Martha's Vineyard, it would be fewer than people down in Texas have to deal with on a daily basis."

More: Texas sheriff investigating how migrants were 'lured' on flights DeSantis arranged

More: DeSantis touts plan to 'profile' and divert migrants from Florida. Critics claim deception

DeSantis is one of the GOP governors who did that. So are Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who authorized spending millions of dollars on the state-sponsored transport of close to 11,000 migrants, collectively, to Washington and New York City in recent months. Abbott recently designated Chicago as another selected destination. These cities' governments are all led by Democrats.

The Republicans paired these actions with criticism of President Joe Biden's U.S.-Mexico border policies.

DeSantis' Martha's Vineyard stunt, in particular, has become a big controversy over not just the morality of it but the legality of it.

A Texas sheriff and Democrat announced a criminal investigation into whether the Venezuelan migrants were "lured" onto flights DeSantis orchestrated from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Gov. Ron DeSantis spent $615,000 in Florida taxpayer money to fly almost 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard, state records show.
Gov. Ron DeSantis spent $615,000 in Florida taxpayer money to fly almost 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard, state records show.

Several migrants on those flights have said they were promised jobs and housing, which didn't materialize once they landed in Martha's Vineyard.

Millions of people have left Venezuela, where they lived under a dictatorial regime and a depressed economy.

One of the migrants who got on a plane, 36-year-old Pedro Luis Torrelaba, said he was told there would be work, food and housing and thought he was going to New York.

“I simply feel misled because they told a lie, and it has come to nothing,” he said.

DeSantis has claimed no one was misled. A spokesperson for him said he arranged for migrants to be sent to Martha's Vineyard because he'd said he'd "drop off undocumented migrants in progressive states."

Massachusetts officials and Martha's Vineyard residents quickly took action to help the migrants, who needed housing, food and other support after DeSantis' flights landed, unannounced.

More: Florida taxpayers paid $615,000 for DeSantis to fly Texas migrants to island

More: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been telegraphing Martha's Vineyard migrant flights for months

The migrants soon were sent from Martha's Vineyard to Joint Base Cape Cod − a five-agency military base − for shelter as authorities dealt with the situation.

McConnell criticized the Biden administration as lacking solutions as record-breaking numbers of immigrants from Central and South America come to the U.S.-Mexico border. The Kentucky Republican depicted DeSantis as having "helped" the migrants he sent to Martha's Vineyard, saying in a Senate speech Tuesday:

“The governor of Florida helped a tiny number of illegal immigrants, about four dozen, secure transportation to the wealthy liberal destination of Martha’s Vineyard, filled with millionaires’ mansions, which appointed itself a so-called ‘sanctuary destination’ back in 2017," he said.

"Democrats, liberal activists, and the media are predictably melting down. There are absurd accusations flying around that it is somehow evil or illegal for Republican officials to help illegal immigrants move within our country."

USA TODAY contributed to this report. Morgan Watkins is The Courier Journal's chief political reporter. Contact her at mwatkins@courierjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @morganwatkins26.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: McConnell praises DeSantis in sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard