DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis pulled back the curtain to explain how undocumented immigrants were profiled and then how the state used more than $600,000 of Florida taxpayer-funded transportation on two flights to Martha's Vineyard this week.
"They are identified as wanting to come to Florida," DeSantis said of his controversial flights this week.
DeSantis took from the playbook of a fellow Republican, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, by surprising Democrat-led cities and states with large influxes of immigrants. Providing little or no information was part of the plan.
According to the governor, the state of Florida has had people at the border since last summer, "just trying to help Texas." But he said recently, he learned new information about undocumented migrants.
"My guys were like, 'A lot of these folks want to come to Florida,'" DeSantis said. "And I was like, 'Oh, man.'"
He continued saying Florida officials in Texas said it's "pretty consistent" that "about 40%" of the undocumented immigrants mentioned Florida.
"And so what we’re trying to do is profile, 'OK, who do you think is going to try to get to Florida?'" DeSantis said. "If they get in a car with two other people, there’s no way we’re going to be able to protect that."
"So you're trying to identify who's most likely to come and, obviously, if they end up coming to Florida then that's going to impose a lot of cost on the communities. So we’re trying to avoid that. That’s how you’re doing that," DeSantis continued. "They’re not told that they are going to stay in Florida. They’re told that their ultimate destination, in this case, was up in Massachusetts and Martha’s Vineyard."
WFTS in Tampa confirmed that the DeSantis administration paid an aviation company $615,000 as part of a "relocation program" of undocumented immigrants, public records show.
The payment is dated Sept. 8, just under a week before about 50 immigrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard.
The company that was paid was listed as Vetrol Systems Company Inc, which has its headquarters at a Destin, Florida, airport, according to Open Corporates.
The Florida Department of Transportation, which was allocated $12 million from this year's state budget, listed the purchase as "RELOCATION PROGRAM OF UNAUTHORIZED ALIENS."
While speaking Friday, DeSantis confirmed the state hired a contractor to help with the flights, "and there's a bunch of stuff that's gone into creating the infrastructure." He said the state may collaborate in the future with others, but for now, the Legislature gave him $12 million to use, "and I'm going to use it."
Near the end of the question and answer session where DeSantis outlined the program, he indicated former President Donald Trump's policy of making asylum seekers stay in Mexico until their case could be heard was "really the right policy."
"What's happening is the asylum process is being abused because they are trained by activist groups to claim asylum," DeSantis said. "So you have people who are in a whole bunch of safe countries and they keep going from one safe country to the next and they make an asylum claim in the United States. That’s not how it works."
The governor did try to separate the thousands of immigrants who have come to Florida from those being profiled in Texas.
"I'd definitely draw a distinction between some of what we've seen in southern Florida where people have qualified for asylum versus this process that Biden has unleashed where you really have multiple countries that are safe traversing through," DeSantis said Friday.
The DeSantis administration sent out a document updating the state's position on the immigration issue: