A Democratic legislator in Florida filed suit Thursday night, a court is asking to block Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis from transporting more migrants from the southern border. last week’s flight to Martha’s Vineyard violated state law.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, claims DeSantis illegally misused taxpayer dollars by flying migrants from San Antonio to the Massachusetts island. Lawmakers last year approved $12 million for a program to transport migrants the stated state budget the money was to move “unauthorized aliens from this state.”
On Wednesday, Pizzo told CNN, “If we’re able to get this in front of a man or a woman in a black robe, how the hell is the state going to claim that any of these people are from Florida?”
In response to the lawsuit, DeSanti’s spokeswoman Taryn Fenske told CNN Thursday, “Senator Pizzo never misses an opportunity for his 15 minutes of fame challenging an action on an appropriation he voted for.”
DeSantis has promised to transport more migrants from the border and told reporters Friday that the flights to Martha’s Vineyard was “just the beginning”.
The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida. Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, a DeSantis appointee, and Chief Financial Officer-elect Jimmy Patronis, a Republican, are also listed as defendants.
CNN reached out to Perdue and Patronis but did not receive immediate responses.
Patroni spokesman Frank Collins said a tweet partly: “We have received the application, and we are currently investigating the possibilities for sanctions and/or counterclaims.”
DeSantis took credit last week for two flights that moved about 48 migrants from the southern border to Martha’s Vineyard in a headline-grabbing stunt that has brought the country’s immigration crisis to the fore in the affluent resort town. DeSantis said the action was paid for with the $12 million appropriated this year by the Legislature, and he pledged to use “every penny”.
Asked repeatedly about the rationale for moving migrants in a city 700 miles from the westernmost edge of Florida, DeSantis has said he is trying to stop the flow of migrants to Florida at the source. He has said the state has people in Texas “profiling” migrants who are likely headed to the Sunshine State and offered flights to Martha’s Vineyard instead.
Pizzo, who is suing DeSantis as a citizen, also alleges in the suit that the state did not follow other requirements to spend the money. The lawsuit alleges that no program to transport migrants was ever created by the Florida Department of Transportation, nor did the department receive at least two offers to hire a company to move people, another requirement of the law.
CNN has asked DeSantis’ office and the Florida Department of Transportation for contracts and bid proposals related to the flights. Nothing has been delivered to date.
Budget records reviewed by CNN show two payments made to Destin, Florida-based aerospace company Vertol Systems under the migrant relocation program. The first payment of $615,000 was made by the Florida Department of Transportation on September 8, six days before the Martha’s Vineyard flight. A second payment of $950,000 followed on September 16.
In addition to flights, DeSantis also confirmed to Fox host Sean Hannity that migrants were put up in hotels and offered haircuts and other services before being taken to Martha’s Vineyard.
The planes landed briefly in Crestview, Florida, a small town in the Panhandle.
Pizzo argued in the lawsuit that the state also violated a new law championed by DeSantis that prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies that transport “unauthorized aliens.” While there is a dispute over whether the individuals picked up at the border constitute “unauthorized aliens,” Pizzo argued that by bringing these individuals to Florida, the state violated this new law.
If the DeSantis administration claims the migrants are not “unauthorized aliens,” then that would again violate the parameters of the migrant resettlement program, Pizzo told CNN.
“Were they transporting unauthorized aliens into the state? Because that’s a no no,” Pizzo said. “Oh, they’re not, well they weren’t eligible to be transported at all.”
“If we’re talking about 48 people from one place in Florida, flown to another place, I wouldn’t raise the issue of feeding them, housing them and giving them haircuts,” he added. “But FDOT, a road construction agency, spends money on food shelters and other services outside of Florida on individuals with no connection, no connection, no competence to the state. A fifth grader would understand why this is not allowed.”
The lawsuit requested an emergency case management conference and hearing and called for “expedited deadlines” to prevent future flights.