DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Just two days after sending dozens of Venezuelan migrants to the wealthy island community of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, Florida's governor on Friday suggested this is just the start of the state's effort to relocate undocumented migrants to sanctuary cities.
Gov. Ron DeSantis provided more details about the controversial move during a news conference at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
The governor said the 50 "illegal aliens" sent to Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday started in Texas, and were identified by immigration officials there as wanting to travel to Florida.
"We've had people in Texas for months, trying to figure out, how are these people getting into Florida? What's the movement?" DeSantis said. "And the reality is, 40% of them say they want to go to Florida. And so that's a lot."
WATCH: Gov. DeSantis speaks about relocation of Venezuelan migrants
DeSantis said many of the migrants who wish to go to Florida don't come in large caravans, but instead travel two or three at a time in vehicles, something he admitted is very hard to track.
Using a portion of the state's $12 million allocated for a program "to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state," DeSantis said the migrants were flown on Wednesday from San Antonio, Texas to Crestview, Florida, and then eventually to the wealthy enclave of Martha's Vineyard.
Upon arrival, they were given meals, shelter, health care, and information about where to find work.
"I got $12 million for us to use, and so we are gonna use it," DeSantis said. "And you're gonna see more and more. But I'm gonna make sure that we exhaust all those funds, because I think it's important."
According to multiple reports, the migrants claimed they were told they were going to Boston.
Julio Henriquez, an attorney that who met with several Venezuelans, said they "had no idea of where they were going or where they were."
DeSantis on Friday, however, pushed back on those allegations, saying the migrants "voluntarily" signed release forms and were given packets that contained a map of Martha's Vineyard.
"They're not told that they're gonna stay in Florida. They're told that their ultimate destination, in this case, was up in Massachusetts at Martha's Vineyard," DeSantis said.
On Friday, the migrants were being moved voluntarily to a military base on nearby Cape Cod, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he would activate up to 125 National Guard members to assist the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
"They were told that they would have a job and they would have housing," said Elizabeth Folcarelli, who leads Martha's Vineyard Community Services and described the scramble for shelter as a "huge challenge."
In relocating the migrants, DeSantis has borrowed a tactic from Republican governors in Texas and Arizona, moving migrants to other states to protest the Biden Administration's border policies.
Texas has bused about 8,000 migrants to Washington since April, including more than 100 Thursday to Vice President Kamala Harris' home. The state has also bused about 2,200 to New York and 300 to Chicago.
Arizona has bused more than 1,800 migrants to Washington since May, but has kept officials on the receiving end well-informed of their plans. The city of El Paso, Texas, has sent at least 1,135 migrants on 28 buses to New York since Aug. 23 and, like Arizona, shares passenger rosters and other information.
Charlie Crist, DeSantis' Democratic rival for governor in the November election, is filing a Sunshine Law request to the governor's office for all emails, text messages, and all forms of internal communication regarding DeSantis; decision to transport the migrants to Massachusetts.
"Is this the way to treat our fellow man and women? Of course not. Laws may have been broken in the course of this," Crist said. "Who was planning this? How they did plan it? Why did they plan it?"
Crist and other Democrats are calling for the Department of Justice to step in and investigate after some of the migrants told outlets they were coerced onto the flights and didn’t know where they were headed.
"This has not just been an immoral act. This may have been an illegal act and we have the right to know," Crist said.
There’s also a question of whether the funding rules for these flights were followed.
The language said migrants need to be from Florida. And while they made a stop in the Sunshine State, the flights originated in Texas.
Nevertheless, DeSantis said to expect more of them, along with buses, in the future.
"I think what we're continuing to do is use every tool at our disposal to insulate the state of Florida from the negative ramifications of [President Joe Biden's] reckless border policies," DeSantis said Friday. "And yes, that involves helping with transport."