California Governor Gavin Newsom appeared to threaten his Florida counterpart Ron DeSantis with kidnapping charges Monday, as a second planeload of migrants arrived via private jet in state capital Sacramento.
The confrontation comes after DeSantis — a rising Republican star and potential presidential candidate in 2024 — has pursued a policy of flying migrants to Democratic-controlled states, in protest at President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
Last September, DeSantis arranged and paid for nearly 50 migrants to fly from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy resort island in the northeastern state of Massachusetts.
While Florida officials have not commented on the two recent flights to Sacramento, California officials said some of the migrants were carrying documentation “purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida.”
“@RonDeSantis you small, pathetic man,” tweeted Newsom on Monday.
“This isn’t Martha’s Vineyard. Kidnapping charges?” he added, including a screenshot of California’s legal code on kidnapping.
The first planeload of more than a dozen migrants, originally from Colombia and Venezuela, arrived in Sacramento on Friday.
They had crossed the United States border into Texas and were transported to New Mexico before boarding a plane.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office was “evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants.”
“State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting,” he said in a statement.
PICO California, a faith-based group helping the migrants, said the group did not know they were being taken to California, and had been approached by people offering them jobs.
A second planeload of around 20 migrants, mainly from Venezuela, arrived in Sacramento on Monday, the New York Times reported.
Wilkendri Rodriguez, 23, told the newspaper he had been approached by four people in El Paso, Texas and asked if he wanted to go to California.
“I don’t know what is their motivation to organize these trips,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s political, or part of the government. They didn’t tell us anything.”
A California Department of Justice official told US media it appeared the same company, Vertol Systems, as well as the state of Florida, had been involved in both operations.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment on the flights.
Separately on Monday, a Texas sheriff investigating the migrant flights last September from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard recommended criminal charges.
A criminal investigation found the migrants were lured onto flights with false promises of jobs and opportunities on the other end, according to the Miami Herald.