DeSantis Pushes Forward With Controversial Legislation to Ship Migrants to ‘Sanctuary Cities’

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that will increase the budget for migrant transport.
  • Last year, the Florida Republican authorized flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as a political message.
  • “I can’t have people all across the border coming into Florida,” DeSantis said Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a bill into law Wednesday to expand the state’s ability to move migrants to Democratic-led states. 

The signing comes following controversial actions last year when DeSantis authorized sending two planes filled with Venezuelan and Colombian migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, the vacation island in Massachusetts, as part of a political stunt aimed at opposing President Joe Biden’s border policy. 

The move triggered several lawsuits questioning its legality, including from Florida Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo. The initial transport bill, from 2022, specified that state funds must be used to transport migrants only out of Florida, yet the governor orchestrated flights out of Texas. 

Under the expanded law, Florida could move migrants from any state and keep the details of the transportation companies secret.

DeSantis, who typically showcases his legislative achievements with public events that he streams on social media, didn’t sign the bill into law before a crowd. Instead, he did so from his office in the governor’s mansion and then tweeted a photo. 

Still, he did address the legislation publicly after fielding a question about it from a reporter in West Palm Beach, where he was unveiling a separate technology proposal. Asked to defend the immigration policy, DeSantis said Biden’s border actions had necessitated that he act. 

“What it’s done is it’s highlighted this issue in a way that would not have been highlighted any other way,” he said, adding: “I would love to not have to deal with this at all. But you have a total disaster that’s unfolded on that border for over two years.” 

DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard move was viewed by critics as a cruel stunt that misled vulnerable migrants.

In political circles, it also was seen as an attempt to gin up headlines ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run. Defenders of the transport programs have said that the considerable costs of supporting migrants with food, shelter, and medical care should be borne not just by states along the US-Mexico border. 

On September 20, 2022, a Boston-based civil rights firm representing a group of migrants and an immigration nonprofit network sued DeSantis, alleging migrants were tricked into boarding the flights with false promises of jobs and other support. 

Despite the legal and political backlash, DeSantis pressed ahead in expanding the program. He brought lawmakers to Tallahassee last week to fast-track the bill through both chambers. The governor has a Republican supermajority in the legislature that has been deferential to his proposals. 

“Florida is using all tools available to protect our citizens from Biden’s open border policies,” DeSantis tweeted Wednesday. “I am glad to have signed legislation to continue the program of transporting illegal aliens to sanctuary jurisdictions. I thank the legislature for maintaining this valuable tool.”

The state still has millions set aside for transporting migrants, but DeSantis has asked lawmakers to allocate $12 million more through their separate, budget-making process when they meet for their regular session in March. 

“Some of these folks going to these sanctuary jurisdictions are in much better circumstances than just being stranded somewhere with nowhere to go,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “It’s not about them, because these are sanctuary jurisdictions that beat their chest just a few years ago about how nobody was illegal.”

So-called “sanctuary cities” limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities by refusing to report or hand over certain undocumented immigrants for deportation. 

DeSantis has said he agreed with former President Donald Trump’s border policies that required migrants to wait in Mexico for their immigration appointments in the US.

US Customs and Border Protection in Miami reported that the state has seen a 400% increase in migrants from Cuba and Haiti arriving by boat since October of last year, according to CBS News.

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