Florida lawmaker plans to sue DeSantis to block more migrant flights


A Democratic Florida lawmaker is expected to file a lawsuit to block Gov. Ron DeSantis from transporting more migrants across the southern border to other states.

State Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami said the DeSantis administration broke state law last week when it decided to fly 50 migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard. Pizzo told CNN Tuesday afternoon that a legal challenge to the emergency order is “progressive.”

Pizzo hopes to have a hearing by the end of the week. DeSantis has vowed to transport more migrants across the border, telling reporters Friday that the flights to Martha’s Vineyard were “just the beginning.”

In justifying the flights, DeSantis pointed to an estimate of $12 million for a new program to transport people illegally in the United States. But the budget the Republican governor signed into law in June said the money was for transporting those people “out of this state.” All persons transported by Florida were picked up in Texas.

“But if we’re able to get that on a man or woman in black, how the hell is the state going to say one of those people is from Florida?” Former state prosecutor Pizzo said.

Since last week, DeSantis has worked to explain the legal basis that allows the state to move migrants from a city 700 miles from the western edge of the Florida Panhandle. He has repeatedly suggested that the action was justified because Florida is the final destination for many migrants. Florida, he said, who “profiles” people on the ground in Texas, would likely go to the Sunshine State.

“If you do it at the source and divert it to sanctuary jurisdictions, the chance of it ending up in Florida is much lower,” DeSantis told reporters Tuesday.

“If I could do everything in Florida, I would,” he added. “But if we ignore the source, you’re going to dump people five times a day, 10 times a day, 20 times a day. I do not know. But there’s no way to keep track of it all, because it’s on such a small scale.”

Pizzo said the justification does not allow the governor to ignore Florida law.

“You can’t even play by your own rules,” Pizzo said. “This is not something we passed 12 years ago. It was done four months ago at your request.’

He asked Pizzo, “Where does it end?”

Florida Democrats believe DeSantis tried to create a legal basis for the flights by making the planes stop briefly in Crestview, Florida. Indeed, when asked about the state law last week, DeSantis stated that the migrants “went from Texas to Florida on the flight to Martha’s Vineyard.”

But that wouldn’t explain the other costs in Texas. A class-action lawsuit filed against DeSantis in court this week alleges that someone working in Florida recruited the migrants and lured them onto flights with $10 McDonald’s gift cards. On Fox News last week, DeSantis confirmed to host Sean Hannity that migrants were being put up in hotels and given haircuts and other services before their flights.

Most of Florida’s Republican lawmakers have been silent on DeSantis’ action. The offices of the president of the state Senate or the speaker of the state House did not respond to requests.

But state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, raised questions on Twitter about the legal justification for the flights.

“My reading is that even on the loosest interpretation, the funds could only be used for the portion of the flight from Florida to the Vineyard,” Brandes posted on Sept. 15. “Who paid for the portion of the flight from Texas to Florida?”

Brandes also tweeted that he was “awaiting clarification” on how the flights were authorized. He told CNN on Wednesday that he had no response from the government office or the state.

The flights to Martha’s Vineyard also contradicted a budget provision that said the $12 million was earmarked for the transportation of “unauthorized aliens,” a term the law defined as someone “in the United States illegally” as defined by “” federal statutes, rules or regulations”. Migrants transported by the state to Martha’s Vineyard entered the country seeking asylum and appear to be following the proper procedures of immigration law. They are legally allowed to stay in the United States until their asylum applications are processed.

DeSantis’ office did not respond to requests for comment on the budget language or further explanation of the administration’s legal basis for its actions.

Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in South Florida, said he’s skeptical that a court will grant a lawmaker or citizen the ability to move forward with a lawsuit.

“It’s very difficult for a citizen to be sued for something they don’t like,” Jarvis said. “A lot of the court’s position is, ‘If you don’t like what someone is doing, you have to vote for someone else and you have to get other people to vote with you.'”

Even if Pizzo finds a sympathetic judge, Florida’s appeals courts are stacked with judges appointed by Republican governors, as is the state Supreme Court, and they often side with the administration, Jarvis noted.

Instead, Jarvis said the state constitution gives the legislature one remedy to stop a governor acting outside his authority: impeachment.

But in Florida, DeSantis – one of his party’s most popular leaders and a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024 – faces no such threat. For much of his first term, DeSantis has operated unfettered by typical constitutional checks. Republicans, who control the state House and Senate, have repeatedly ceded their reins to DeSantis or refused to interfere. Just this year, they let Congress draw a new map even though states give that power to lawmakers, but they didn’t object when a twice-elected local attorney was suspended and went along with a special legislature to bring Disney to its knees after the company publicly protested. a new state law prohibiting the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to young children.

“If we didn’t have one party governing Florida, if we had a regular House and Senate, you’d have a call for him to resign right now and he’d have to explain why that’s the right thing to do,” Jarvis said. He wrote textbooks on the Florida constitution. “The framers of our state constitution never imagined that a governor would be in his head and a legislature in his pocket.”

Lawmakers created the program to transport “unauthorized” migrants from Florida at the request of DeSantis, who floated the idea of ​​sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in December. The state budget included $12 million to complete the program paid for with interest earned on federal coronavirus relief funds.

The program was under the Florida Department of Transportation, which was allowed to enter contracts to transport people “after receiving at least two quotes.”

Budget records reviewed by CNN show two payments to Destin, Florida-based aviation company Vertol Systems as part of the migrant relocation program. The initial payment of $615,000 was made by the Florida Department of Transportation on September 8, six days before the Martha’s Vineyard flight. On September 16 there was another payment of $950,000.

However, a state website that serves as a guide to agency contracts does not show a contract with Vertol. FDOT did not respond to a request for the contract and related procurement records.

In a Sept. 16 letter to the agency, state Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book asked state Transportation Secretary Jared Purdue to demonstrate that she implemented this program in accordance with state law. Book told CNN he has not received a response despite repeated inquiries.

“I think it’s outrageous that agency heads and people who work in government refuse to ask lawmakers to understand what’s going on with the money and bills that we’ve approved and acquired,” Book said. “It is completely and utterly senseless and we will do everything we can to ensure that the law is followed to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used appropriately.”

DeSantis initially insisted the money was needed to deal with migrants transported by the federal government to the Sunshine State.

“We’re in the process of getting money from the Legislature, so if (President Joe) Biden throws illegal aliens into Florida at the southern border, I send them to Delaware,” DeSantis said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. , to noisy quotes.

But DeSantis recently acknowledged that no such “dumping” took place, and in August, he went on to suggest that the money could be used directly on the southern border. On Friday, the governor said he wants to use “every penny” earmarked for the migrant relocation program for more flights and buses.

“Now we have put in place an infrastructure,” he said. “It’s going to happen a lot more.”