Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist joined state Sen. Annette Taddeo and a handful of Hispanic community leaders Wednesday to discuss Gov. Ron DeSantis’ move to fly 50 undocumented immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
Crist slammed the Governor over the controversial flights, calling the action a “vile political stunt.”
“Ron — you trafficked these people. You lied to them. You spent our tax money flying them across the country,” Crist said. “Now, because of you Floridians are left holding the bag for your games. There is no evidence that these refugees ever sought to come to Florida. So Ron had to trick them to participate in this political stunt.”
The Venezuelan migrants, who were asylum seekers, were lured into the Florida-funded charter flights with the promise of job opportunities and a better life. They were then flown from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, without shelter or resources in place upon their arrival.
Crist said the political stunt helped serve as a distraction from recent anti-abortion rights legislation brought by U.S. Senate Republicans.
“He spent the last few months trying to avoid talking about his ban. So instead, he decided to change the subject. He didn’t care the Florida taxpayers and refugees fleeing socialist dictatorships will pay the price,” Crist said.
Taddeo, who herself fled from Colombia at 17 after terrorists kidnapped her father, called GOP support for DeSantis’ actions hypocritical, citing the recent movement by state leadership against communism.
“Look, politicians in Miami, where I represent in the state Senate, love to stand up and talk about communism,” she said. “If it was not obvious before, that they use the pain and suffering of our communities for their own game, now it is plain obvious.”
Ade Ferro, the executive director of the Venezuelan American Caucus, echoed Taddeo’s sentiments.
“Today, Governor Ron DeSantis continues his inhuman and cruel political show at the cost of the desperation and suffering of Venezuelan immigrants,” she said. “We don’t know when he will put more immigrants on a plane. We don’t know how much more taxpayer money he will use to make his political stance. He does not care about our demand that he must stop using human beings for his personal profit.”
“Calling out Maduro’s criminal and cruel dictatorship and despising the immigrants who are desperately escaping that dictatorship is, to say the least, hypocritical and manipulative,” she continued.
Ferro also criticized the financial toll the flights have on Florida taxpayers. The flights cost the state at least $615,000, part of $12 million allocated in the budget for “migrant relocation.”
“We want to remind Governor Ron DeSantis that all asylum seekers must be treated with dignity and respect, and not as pawns in his cruel and horrific political games,” she said.
“Trying to please and galvanize his extremist base by putting on political shows that Floridians pay for with their taxes just to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 is also another demonstration that he cares very little for the residents of this state, all of us.”
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office opened a criminal investigation Monday into the flights, investigating the incident as a potential human trafficking crime. Immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci, who also spoke Wednesday, said that she believes the flights do fall under the country’s definition of human trafficking.
“These aliens were not unauthorized, they were seeking asylum under international law, which they’re allowed to do,” she said. “It’s trafficking due to the fact that they were told, and DeSantis said this in a press conference, that they would have ‘better lives and jobs.’ The enticement to go somewhere because of better jobs or opportunities falls squarely in the definition of trafficking.” Massachusetts state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, representing the state where the migrants ultimately landed, provided an update on their situation, saying they were welcomed with open arms. “Governor DeSantis is a coward,” he said. “Migrants … that were denied their legal rights, that were used as human pawns in Massachusetts, have been received with open arms.” The Venezuelan migrants flown to the upscale Massachusetts island have sued DeSantis and his transportation secretary for engaging in a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to relocate them.
This article was first published at Florida Politics.