Florida lawmaker sues DeSantis to block future immigration trips from the border


A Florida Democratic lawmaker filed a lawsuit Thursday night asking the court to prevent Republican Governor Ron DeSantis from moving more immigrants from the southern border, arguing that last week’s flights to Martha’s Vineyard violate state law.

State Senator Jason Bezo, a Miami Democrat, alleges that DeSantis mis-spent taxpayer money illegally by moving immigrants from San Antonio to Massachusetts Island. Lawmakers last year approved a $12 million program to relocate immigrants, but the state budget specified that the money was to move “unauthorized aliens from this state.”

On Wednesday, Pizzo told CNN, “If we can get this in front of a man or a woman in a black robe, how is the state going to counter that any of these people are from Florida?”

In response to the lawsuit, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Finsky told CNN Thursday, “Senator Bezu never misses an opportunity to get 15 minutes of fame and defies action on a vote for him.”

DeSantis pledged to move more immigrants from the border, telling reporters Friday that flights to Martha’s Vineyard were “just the beginning.”

The lawsuit was filed in Circuit Court for the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida. Florida Transportation Secretary Jared Purdue, a DeSantis appointee, and CFO-elect Jimmy Patronis, a Republican, are also listed as defendants.

CNN contacted Perdue and Patronis but did not receive immediate responses.

Patronis spokesman Frank Collins said in a Tweet In part: “We have received the deposit and are currently exploring options for sanctions and/or action.”

DeSantis last week secured credit for two flights that took about 48 migrants from the southern border to Martha’s Vineyard in a headline-grabbing stunt that pushed the country’s immigration crisis to the first step in the affluent holiday town. DeSantis said the measure was paid for with the $12 million the legislature appropriated this year and promised to use “every penny.”

When repeatedly asked about the rationale for moving immigrants located in a city located 700 miles from the westernmost point of Florida, DeSantis said he is trying to stem the flow of immigrants into Florida at the source. He said the state has people in Texas “categorizing” immigrants likely to head to the Sunshine State, offering trips to Martha’s Vineyard instead.

Pizzo, who is suing DeSantis as a citizen of the state, also alleges in the lawsuit that the state did not follow other requirements to spend the money. The lawsuit alleges that no immigrant relocation program has been established by the Florida Department of Transportation, nor has the department received at least two offers to hire a people transportation company, another requirement of the law.

CNN has asked DeSantis’ office and the Florida Department of Transportation for contracts and proposals for flights. Nothing has been submitted yet.

Budget records reviewed by CNN show two payments made to airline Vertol Systems in Destin, Florida, under the immigrant resettlement program. The initial payment of $615,000 was made by the Florida Department of Transportation on September 8, six days before Martha’s Vineyard trip. Another payment of $950,000 followed on September 16.

In addition to the flights, DeSantis also confirmed to Fox host Sean Hannity that the immigrants were placed in hotels and offered their haircuts and other services before being transferred to Martha’s Vineyard.

The planes landed briefly in Crestview, Florida, a small town in the Panhandle.

In the lawsuit, Pizzo alleged that the state also violated a new law backed by DeSantis that prohibits state agencies from contracting with companies that transport “unauthorized aliens.” While there is dispute over whether individuals arrested at the border constituted “unauthorized aliens,” Pizzo asserted that by bringing these individuals to Florida, the state violated this new law.

Pizzo told CNN that if the DeSantis administration claimed the immigrants were not “unauthorized aliens,” it would again be a violation of the criteria for the immigrant resettlement program.

Were they transporting unauthorized foreigners to the state? Because that’s not,” said Bezu, “”Oh, they’re not, well, they weren’t qualified to be moved at all.”

“If we were talking about 48 people from somewhere in Florida, and they traveled somewhere else, I wouldn’t raise the issue of feeding them, housing them, and their hairstyles,” he added. “But the FDOT, a road building agency, spends money on food housing and other services outside of Florida on individuals who have no connection, connection, or jurisdiction to the state. A fifth grader will understand why this is not allowed.”

The suit requested an emergency management conference and hearing and called for “urgent deadlines” to prevent future flights.

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