Gov. Ron DeSantis and a San Antonio sheriff’s office confirmed that Venezuelan migrants were flown from Texas to Florida and eventually to Martha’s Vineyard.
Several Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the small island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts are now suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his transportation secretary.
The federal lawsuit alleges that the migrants were persuaded to cross state lines under false pretenses.
After VERIFY published a story and subsequent TikTok video confirming that Florida had committed $12 million to a program to transport migrants out of the state, some viewers claimed flights to Martha’s Vineyard were actually off Texas and not from Florida. They wanted VERIFY to check whether Florida paid for the migrants to be transported between the two states.
Did Florida pay migrants to fly from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard?
Yes, Florida paid migrants to fly from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
WHAT WE FOUND
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in San Antonio confirmed that migrants from Texas were flown in on flights paid for by the state of Florida before eventually arriving in Martha’s Vineyard.
In June 2022, DeSantis signed the Freedom First Budget 2022-2023 totaling $109.9 billion. That budget allocated $12 million for a “program within the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) to transport unauthorized aliens” out of the state.
DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske previously confirmed to VERIFY that the two planes that landed in Martha’s Vineyard were “part of the state’s resettlement program.”
Records show that on Sept. 8, the Florida Department of Transportation paid $615,000 to Vertol Systems Company, Inc., an Oregon-based airline company that operates in Destin, Florida, for the state’s “Relocation Program for Unauthorized Aliens.” has paid. The payment was made nearly a week before the planes arrived at Martha’s Vineyard.
VERIFY sister station WTSP reported Sept. 21 that Florida had paid Vertol Systems Company an additional $950,000, though DeSantis would not confirm if the money was for another migrant flight.
During a Sept. 16 press conference, DeSantis confirmed that the Venezuelan migrants “went from Texas to Florida to Martha’s Vineyard.”
DeSantis said the state has sent “contractors” to Texas who “identify people trying to get to Florida and then offer them free transportation to protected areas,” like Massachusetts and other U.S. states.
Although the migrants came from Texas, a spokesman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed that his office was not involved in funding the flights out of the state.
“Our office has been in discussions with Gov. DeSantis and his team about supporting our bus strategy to provide much-needed assistance to our overwhelmed and overrun border communities,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said in a statement. “While we were not involved in those first planes to Martha’s Vineyard, we appreciate your support in responding to this national crisis and helping Texans.”
The DeSantis office did not respond to questions about how Florida used state budget funds to fly migrants out of Texas.
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Florida’s migrant flights from Texas have sparked an investigation by law enforcement officials in the San Antonio area.
Javier Salazar, Bexar County Sheriff announced September 19 that he has launched a criminal investigation into those who “lured and transported” 48 migrants from the Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard.
Salazar said during a news conference that a Venezuelan migrant was paid a fee to recruit about 50 others from the area around central San Antonio.
“It is our understanding that 48 migrants – I will use the word lured – were lured to stay in a hotel for a few days under false pretenses,” Salazar said. “They were picked up by plane at a certain point, they were taken to a plane where they were flown to Florida and finally to Martha’s Vineyard.”
An attorney representing the migrants contacted the sheriff’s office to brief law enforcement on allegations that migrants were flown from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard “under false pretenses,” the Bexar County sheriff’s office said in a statement statement sent by email.
Salazar said during the press conference that the migrants were promised jobs and a “solution to several of their problems,” although he did not elaborate.
DeSantis has claimed that the migrants boarded flights paid for by the state of Florida voluntarily.
The sheriff’s office told VERIFY that the plane reportedly “departed from Kelly/Lackland AFB, specifically Atlantic Aviation.”
Kelly Field Annex is a former Air Force facility that is now part of Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. Although no longer considered an air force base and private individuals can fly out of Kelly Field, it is still owned and operated by the US military.
VERIFY reached out to the Air Force for comment on the migrant flights, but received no response at the time of publication.
In response to the sheriff’s investigation, Fenske again defended the decision to fly migrants from Texas to the East Coast.
“Immigrants were more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, made homeless and ‘left to their own devices’. Florida gave them the opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary that, as we expected, offered them greater resources,” Fenske said. “When the MA National Guard did not fail these individuals, they were provided with housing, food, clothing and more opportunities to succeed after their unfair lure to the United States, unlike the 53 immigrants who were in died in a truck found abandoned in Bexar County this June.”
This story will be updated as VERIFY learns more about the migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard.
More from VERIFY: Yes, Florida has committed $12 million to transport migrants out of the state
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https://www.king5.com/article/news/verify/immigration/florida-paid-for-texas-migrant-flights-marthas-vineyard-fact-check/536-ebbaf728-160f-459d-b7c7-fe6496946484 Florida paid for migrant flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard