SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Florida officials on Tuesday confirmed that the state was behind the transportation of South American migrants to Sacramento on two recent flights.
They also claimed the migrants voluntarily relocated to the Golden State after California authorities raised the possibility that the migrants were deceived into accepting the plane trips.
At a news conference in Sacramento, volunteer and faith groups shared their interactions with the people they are helping with shelter, food, clothes and legal assistance. "I want you to picture young people, with lots of energy," said Gabby Trejo, the executive director of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, the group spearheading the care. "Young people who walked for 7 months who say, 'I want to have that American dream, because my family deserves a better life."
The Florida's Division of Emergency Management chronicled the migrant's journey to California, in a produced video that features the group boarding a plane and riding in a stretched vehicle.
"We made it to California. Thank God! Very Thankful to God," one of the migrants said in Spanish on the video.
Florida officials said the two groups of migrants, totaling 36 people, voluntarily flew to California, despite Gov. Gavin Newsom suggesting in a tweet that the migrants were kidnapped.
The video purportedly shows the migrants signing waivers and cheering after their arrival. Some of them stated they were treated well during their travel.
"Florida's voluntary relocation is precisely that - voluntary. Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California," said Alecia Collins, communications director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management."
The volunteers in Sacramento working with the migrants told reporters, the groups were brought here under false pretenses after being approached at a shelter in El Paso. "People representing themselves as contracting or an organization that could help them relocate, to a place where they’d be provided jobs, shelter and job opportunities," said Cecilia Flores from Sacramento ACT.
Newsom and his office are aware of the video, calling it a political stunt.
"This is exploitative propaganda being peddled by a politician who has shown there are no depths he won’t sink to in his desperate effort to score a political point," said Anthony York, Newsom's senior advisor. "Governor Newsom said it best. The Florida governor is small and pathetic, and this video is just another reminder of that."
Florida said it worked with a contractor to transport the two groups of migrants to Sacramento. Once they arrived in Sacramento they were connected with the Catholic Charities of Sacramento, they claim.
"From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new. But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it's false imprisonment and kidnapping," Collins said in a statement.
On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could be charged with kidnapping.
"This isn't Martha's Vineyard. Kidnapping charges?" Newsom tweeted, referencing Florida's migrant relocation initiative. DeSantis drew national headlines last year when the state of Florida flew a group of South American migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, which had touted broad support for sanctuary policies.
At the news conference in Sacramento, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he wanted to focus on the good work of community members to assist the migrants, not those behind it.
"Whoever is doing this, is committing a terrible wrong, so that's one given" said Steinberg. "But the other given is, the other question is, what must be our response?"
The community leaders vowed to support the migrants in any way they could, and any other migrants who might be brought to the city.
"You bring people to our community who don’t know where their hope lies, we will provide them hope," said Steinberg. "You bring people to this community who don’t know where their future lies, we will help them find their futures."