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DeSantis defends Martha's Vineyard migrant flights after Texas investigation opens

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' flight that took 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., is being investigated by the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in Texas. The migrants were flown from Texas to Florida and then on to Martha's Vineyard. Here, DeSantis speaks at a rally on Aug. 19 in Pittsburgh.
Jeff Swensen
Getty Images
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' flight that took 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., is being investigated by the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in Texas. The migrants were flown from Texas to Florida and then on to Martha's Vineyard. Here, DeSantis speaks at a rally on Aug. 19 in Pittsburgh.

Updated September 20, 2022 at 12:35 PM ET

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is defending his decision to send Venezuelan migrants to Martha's Vineyard last week, saying outrage over the flights was misplaced.

Speaking Monday on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News hours after the sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, announced a criminal investigation into the flights, DeSantis said, "It's really frustrating. Millions of people since Biden's been president, illegally coming across the southern border. Did they freak out about that? No.

"You've had migrants die in the Rio Grande — you had 50 die in Texas in a trailer because they were being neglected. Was there a freakout about that? No, there wasn't," DeSantis said.

His office released a statement Tuesday morning backing the decision to send the migrants, who had been at a center in Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, to Martha's Vineyard:

"Immigrants have been more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless, and 'left to fend for themselves.' Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected. Unless the MA national guard has abandoned these individuals, they have been provided accommodations, sustenance, clothing and more options to succeed following their unfair enticement into the United States, unlike the 53 immigrants who died in a truck found abandoned in Bexar County this June."

In the Hannity interview, DeSantis referred to the outrage over the flights as virtue signaling and said the response of anger only came after about 50 migrants were dropped in Martha's Vineyard. The governor insisted that sanctuary localities like Martha's Vineyard "said they wanted this, they said they were a sanctuary jurisdiction."

Javier Salazar, the sheriff of Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, said in a news release Monday that his office is investigating whether the migrants were victims of crimes:

The Bexar County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into the migrants that were lured from the Migrant Resource Center, located in Bexar County, TX, and flown to Florida, where they were ultimately left to fend for themselves in Martha's Vineyard, MA.

Additionally, we are working with private attorneys who are representing the victims, as well as advocacy organizations regarding this incident. We are also preparing to work with any federal agencies that have concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.

Salazar held a Facebook Live news conference over the Bexar County Sheriff's Office page, answering reporters' questions.

"What we understand is a Venezuelan migrant was paid a bird-dog fee to recruit 50 migrants who were then were lured — and I will use the word 'lured' under false pretenses — to staying in a hotel for a few days, then taken to an airplane where they were flown to Florida and then Martha's Vineyard under false pretenses of being offered jobs," Salazar said. "For what we can gather, a little more than a photo op, a video op, and then they were left there."

DeSantis said that everyone on the flights had "signed consent forms to go" and that the migrants were given maps and directions on where to go once they arrived in Martha's Vineyard.

"So it was clearly voluntary, and all the other nonsense you're hearing is just not true," he said.

Salazar, the Texas sheriff, expressed his anger over the incident during his news conference, and what he called the false promises that brought the migrants onto the plane.

"What infuriates me the most is what we have is 48 people here legally — they have every right to be here and they were preyed upon," Salazar said. "Lured with promises of a better life and with the knowledge they would cling anything that was offered for a better life and were exploited and hoodwinked to make the trip to Florida for what I believe was political posturing."

"When you're playing with human lives, people that have every right to be here, that does tend to bother me quite a bit," he said. "We are absolutely opening an investigation into this."

Salazar added that the White House has not been in contact with his office, but he does welcome open communication.

"This case would absolutely have to go federal, and I would welcome a call from the White House to discuss," he said.

Salazar said he wanted to be as clear as possible to remind people that the migrants are in the U.S. legally and that they have every right to walk around free and not be preyed upon or lured into a situation that they did not choose to be in.

"If someone is here and they are illegally here and are undocumented, they have rights to not be victims. They have rights to not be lured to another state with fake promises. With that being said, these people were here legally. They were documented. They had the right to walk around the streets free and not be transported across the country for it to be a media event. That's a tragedy. That is at worst some type of crime. We're going to look at what extent of the law we can hold people accountable."

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Matt Adams
Matt Adams is an Audience Engagement Strategist at NPR, where he is always thinking of how a broadcast company can do more on the internet. His focus is on social media strategy and how to connect NPR with new audiences in creative ways, from community building to social audio.