A Democratic legislator in Florida is expected to file a lawsuit to prevent Governor Ron DeSantis from transporting more migrants from the southern border to other states.
Miami State Senator Jason Pizzo said the DeSantis administration broke state law last week when it arranged to send 50 migrants in San Antonio by plane to Martha’s Vineyard. Pizzo told CNN Wednesday afternoon that a legal challenge to an emergency warrant is “imminent.”
Pizzo hopes for a hearing by the end of the week. DeSantis has vowed to carry more migrants from the border, telling reporters Friday that flights to Martha’s Vineyard were “just the beginning.”
To justify the flights, DeSantis has pointed to a state budget provision that will set aside $12 million for a new program to transport people illegally present in the United States. But the budget, signed by the Republican governor in June, said the money was for the transportation of those individuals “from this state.” All persons transported through Florida were collected in Texas.
“If we can get this for a man or a woman in a black robe, how the hell is the state going to claim that one of these people is from Florida?” Pizzo, a former prosecutor, said.
Since last week, DeSantis has made an effort to explain the legal basis that allows the state to move migrants located in a city 700 miles from the westernmost edge of the Florida Panhandle. He has repeatedly suggested that the action was validated because Florida is the final destination of many migrants. Florida, he said, has individuals on the ground in Texas “profile” people likely to go to the Sunshine State.
“If you can do it at the source and redirect it to sanctuary jurisdictions, the chances of them ending up in Florida are much smaller,” DeSantis told reporters on Tuesday.
“If I could do it all in Florida, I would,” he added. “But if we ignore the source, you get people trickling in five, ten a day, twenty a day. I don’t know. But you can’t possibly track all that because it’s on such a small scale.”
Pizzo said justification doesn’t allow the governor to ignore Florida law.
“You can’t even play by your own rules,” said Pizzo. “This is not something we went through 12 years ago. It was done four months ago at your request.”
Pizzo asked, “Where does it end?”
Florida Democrats believe DeSantis attempted to create a legal basis for the flights by briefly stopping the planes in Crestview, Florida. Indeed, when asked about the state law last week, DeSantis noted that the migrants “went from Texas to Florida, to Martha’s Vineyard in flight.”
But that wouldn’t explain the other costs in Texas. A class action lawsuit filed in court this week against DeSantis alleges that migrants were recruited by someone who worked for Florida and lured to flights with a $10 McDonald’s gift card. Last week, DeSantis confirmed on Fox News that Sean Hannity hosted migrants being accommodated in hotels and offered haircuts and other services before the flights.
Most Republican lawmakers in Florida have been silent about DeSantis’ action. Neither the offices of the president of the state senate or the president of the House responded to requests for comment.
But state senator Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, took to Twitter to question the legal justification for the flights.
“My reading is that even under the loosest interpretation, the money could only be used for the portion of the Florida-to-Vineyard flight,” Brandes wrote Sept. 15. “Who paid for the flight from Texas to Florida?”
Brandes also tweeted that he was “waiting for clarification” on how the flights were authorized. He told CNN on Wednesday that he has heard nothing from the governor’s office or the state.
The flights to Martha’s Vineyard also appeared to violate a budget provision stating that the $12 million was earmarked for the transportation of “unauthorized aliens,” a term defined by law as someone “illegally present.” is in the United States, as defined by “federal statutes, rules, or regulations.” The migrants who were transported by the state to Martha’s Vineyard entered the country by applying for asylum and they appear to be following the proper procedures of immigration law and are legally allowed to stay in the United States until their asylum application has been processed.
DeSantis’s office did not respond to requests for comment on budget language or for further clarification on the administration’s legal basis for its actions.
Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in South Florida, said he is skeptical that a court will give a legislator or citizen a status that would allow for a lawsuit.
“It’s very hard for a citizen to sue because of something they don’t like,” Jarvis said. “The court’s position is often, ‘If you don’t like what someone is doing, you should vote for someone else and convince other people to vote with you.'”
Even if Pizzo finds a sympathetic judge, Florida’s courts of appeals are full of judges appointed by Republican governors, much like the state’s Supreme Court, and they often side with the administration, Jarvis noted.
Jarvis previously said the state constitution provides a remedy for the legislature to rein in a governor operating outside his authority: impeachment.
But in Florida, DeSantis — one of his party’s most popular leaders and a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 — faces no such threat. For much of his first term in office, DeSantis was largely unconstrained by typical constitutional controls. Republicans, who control the state house and senate, have repeatedly relinquished their authority to DeSantis or refused to stand in his way. This year alone, they had him sign a new congressional card, even though the state gives lawmakers that power, they didn’t object when he suspended a twice-elected local prosecutor, and they joined a special legislative session to bring Disney to its knees. after the company publicly protested a new state law that prohibits instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity to young children.
“If we didn’t have a one-party rule in Florida, if we had a house and a senate that was normal, you would have made an appeal by now to impeach him and he would have to explain why this was appropriate,” said Jarvis, who has authored textbooks on the Florida Constitution. “The founders of our state constitution never imagined you’d have a runaway governor and legislature in your pocket.”
Lawmakers created the program to transport “unauthorized” migrants from Florida at the request of DeSantis, who first came up with the idea of sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in December. The state budget included $12 million to run the program, which was paid for with interest earned on federal funds for coronavirus relief.
The program was administered by the Florida Department of Transportation, which was given the authority to contract to transport people “upon receipt of at least two bids.”
Budget data reviewed by CNN shows two payments made to Destin, Florida-based aviation company Vertol Systems under its migrant relocation program. The first payment of $615,000 was made by the Florida Department of Transportation on Sept. 8, six days before the Martha’s Vineyard flight. Another $950,000 payment followed on September 16.
However, a state website that serves as a clearinghouse for agency contracts does not show a contract with Vertol. FDOT did not respond to a request to provide the contract and associated purchase records.
In a letter to the agency dated Sept. 16, Lauren Book, the minority leader of the state Senate, asked Transportation Secretary Jared Purdue to provide evidence that it had determined that this program was in compliance with state law. Book told CNN she has received no response despite repeated inquiries.
“I think it’s outrageous that bureau chiefs and people working within government are stopping lawmakers from understanding what’s going on with money and accounts that we’ve taken and appropriated,” Book said. “It is completely unscrupulous and we will do everything we can to ensure that the law is followed to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used appropriately.”
DeSantis initially claimed the money was needed to deal with migrants transported to the Sunshine State by the federal government.
“We are in the process of getting money from the legislature so that if (President Joe) Biden dumps illegal aliens in Florida on the southern border, I will redirect them to Delaware,” DeSantis told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. , with loud cheers.
But DeSantis recently acknowledged that no such “dumping” had occurred, and in August suggested the money could be used right on the southern border. On Friday, the governor said he plans to use “every cent” allocated to the migrant relocation program towards more flights and buses.
“We have an infrastructure now,” he said. “A lot more is going to happen.”