WASHINGTON – Reports that a plane carrying migrants was heading to President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware sowed chaos across three states on Tuesday and brought public condemnation from the White House.
State officials mobilized. Community groups stood by to help. Reporters and camera crews staked out airports.
But the plane – and the migrants – never showed.
DeSantis, a Republican who is considered a likely presidential candidate in 2024, has threatened to send migrants captured at the border to “sanctuary jurisdictions” around the country.
Last week, he followed through on that threat and flew 48 Venezuelan people from the San Antonio airport to Martha’s Vineyard on two private planes. When they arrived, the Venezuelan migrants told reporters they had lured by individuals who falsely promised them jobs and rent-free places to stay. They filed a class-action lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials on Tuesday seeking unspecified damages.
A federal class action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Boston on behalf of the migrants that accuses the DeSantis administration of deploying a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to transport them. On Monday, Bexar County, Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar announced his agency had opened an investigation into how 48 Venezuelan migrants were “lured” to board flights from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.
Crist, Hispanic leaders blast DeSantis
Democrat Charlie Crist joined with Hispanic leaders Wednesday to keep the heat on DeSantis for using more than $1.5 million of Florida taxpayer money on the Martha’s Vineyard flight.
Crist called the action a “premeditated crime,” by his rival in the Nov. 8 election.
“To utilize human beings for his political gain is shameful,” Crist said.
Among those joining DeSantis on a Zoom call with reporters were Massachusetts state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat; Florida state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami; and Adelys Ferro, executive director of the Venezuelan American Caucus, based in South Florida.
DeSantis tapped a $12 million fund approved by the Republican-led Legislature to relocate unauthorized aliens from Florida to other locations. But Crist and other Democrats say the governor misused the dollars by sending two aircraft to Texas to retrieve asylum-seekers in that state and send them to the wealthy island, what DeSantis later described as “greener pastures.”
A plane to Delaware from Texas?
Monday night, reports surfaced that another plane was scheduled to depart Texas on Tuesday and then head to the Delaware Coastal Airport, about 20 miles west of Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach. Flight plans filed late Monday indicated the plane would travel from San Antonio to Delaware, with a short layover in Crestview, Florida.
But what actually happened remains fuzzy.
The plane had not left Texas as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, but Delaware Gov. John Carney’s spokesperson Emily David Hershman said the governor’s office was aware of the reports and was preparing for the potential arrival.
Reporters and photographers from the USA TODAY network looked for signs of the aircraft in Texas and Florida. No plane took off. No plane landed.
Officials later said no plane is expected.
“We have no reports of anyone arriving at this point,” said Jill Fredel of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services after officials waited for hours for the plane to arrive at Delaware Coastal Airport in Sussex County.
In Okaloosa County, Florida, where the plane was to stop briefly, officials said they don’t receive passenger manifests for flights like the one reportedly bound for Delaware. County spokeswomen April Sarver said the county isn’t even allowed to ask for such documents.
Much of what officials learn, she said, comes from the public, who might be using apps to trace flights coming in from Texas or just passing rumors back and forth on social media.
“We get to hear the rumors too, but we wouldn’t get anything official,” Sarver said. “I sure would like it if Gov. DeSantis would call and give me a head’s up.”
White House responds
At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration was aware of reports that a plane was heading to Delaware. The White House was in “close contact” with Delaware officials, but had not been in touch with DeSantis or his administration, she said.
“Our heads up did not come from Gov. DeSantis because his only goal, as he’s made it really quite clear, is to create chaos and using immigrants fleeing communism as political pawns,” Jean-Pierre said. “So it’s about creating political theater for him. It’s not about getting to a solution.”
Biden, asked later about reports that DeSantis was sending migrants to Delaware, told reporters: “He should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.”
DeSantis, meanwhile, refused to confirm to reporters in Florida whether he had ordered more migrants from Texas be sent to Delaware. But he defended his plan to steer migrants apprehended at the border away from Florida and send them to “sanctuary jurisdictions” around the country.
He also kept up his drumbeat of intense criticism of Biden’s border security policies.
DeSantis counters: Where’s anger for Biden?
In Bradenton, DeSantis questioned why those denouncing his migrant plan aren’t expressing anger with Biden for allowing dozens of migrants to die last June in and around a tractor-trailer in San Antonio. “I heard no outrage about that,” he said.
“I don’t hear outrage about the criminal aliens who have gotten through and victimized people… throughout the country, but you have 50 that end up in Martha’s Vineyard, then they get really upset,” DeSantis said.
Biden’s border security policies are “doing huge damage to our country,” he said, and “nobody can deny there’s a crisis.”
DeSantis said his plan took shape last year when he took a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border to help Texas Gov. Greg Abbott deal with the border crisis.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reported Monday that the number of arrests of undocumented immigrants along the southwestern border — for the first time — had surpassed 2 million this fiscal year, which ends at the end of the month.
‘SOLUTIONS AND NOT THEATER’:Rep. Henry Cuellar calls for more resources for migrants
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS
Emily Lytle of the Delaware News Journal reported this story in Delaware and Tom McLaughlin of the Pensacola News Journal in Florida.