On September 14, 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis chartered two planes carrying almost 50 migrants from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard costing taxpayers over a million dollars. Despite DeSantis’ claims that the migrants traveled “voluntarily,” several migrants reported that they were recruited onto the flights under false pretenses, raising concerns over the legality of transport and the motivations behind this use of public funds.
Migrants reported being approached by a woman named “Perla” offering hotel accommodations and food if they boarded flights. Additionally, migrants were given a misleading brochure describing refugee relocation benefits, benefits they ultimately would not qualify for as asylum seekers. Further evidence suggests ICE also played a role in transporting migrants.
Details of DeSantis’ highly public political stunt are cloaked in secrecy—no state contracts detailing spending are public, and little in the way of communications showing the role of state officials in coordinating the flights are available, raising concerns about a misuse of public funds. Connections between the DeSantis administration and the charter airline Vertol Systems Corporation, paid to fly the migrants, have raised additional concerns, especially the role of the state’s “public safety czar” Larry Keefe, who represented Vertol Systems in numerous lawsuits between 2010 and 2017 before joining the DeSantis administration.
CREW has requested records from Governor DeSantis on all communication regarding the transportation of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, including any communications regarding the woman known as “Perla” and communications between Keefe and Vertol Systems. CREW has also requested records showing the total funds expended on transporting migrants from San Antonio to any other location and any informational materials provided to migrants. Finally, CREW has requested records on all communications between ICE and DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s offices regarding the Martha’s Vineyard flights.
The requested records will clarify the legality of the transportation and whether coercive tactics were used to gain the cooperation of migrants. Additionally, the records will shine a light on ICE’s involvement in transporting migrants and any contact they may have had with DeSantis and Abbott. The public is entitled to know how much of their tax dollars is being used to fund politicized publicity stunts.