Democrat Charlie Crist speaks in Tallahassee on Sept. 16, 2022, as Gov. Ron DeSantis defended flying migrants from Texas to Massachusetts. Credit: Michael Moline
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist continues to hammer Gov. Ron DeSantis over his interstate airlift of asylum seekers, arguing that in offering the migrants “false hopes” the Republican governor engaged in human trafficking.
Crist said Wednesday during a virtual press conference that Venezuelans and Columbians “were targeted and lured with false promises of jobs and security in a state they knew nothing about,” adding that they were given pamphlets “full of lies to trick them onto the plane.”
The migrants arrived in Massachusetts last week and the event has sparked nationwide outrage, resulting in a federal class action against DeSantis, state Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and others, including on-the-ground accomplices who induced the asylum seekers to board the planes.
Additionally, Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar is investigating whether the plan broke that state’s laws.
“Ron, you trafficked these people,” Crist said. “You lied to them. You spent our tax money flying them across the country.”
DeSantis has promised to use all of a $12 million legislative appropriation to move “unauthorized aliens” out of state but reports that a second flight would deliver asylum seekers to Delaware on Tuesday proved unfounded.
‘Force, fraud, or coercion’
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”
Elizabeth Ricci, an immigration lawyer in Florida, said during the news conference that the migrants “were seeking asylum under international law.”
“Obviously, it was a stunt,” Ricci said. “They were never even going to Florida to begin with as far as we know. I think that’s fiscally irresponsible. It’s also trafficking because due to the fact that they were told, and DeSantis said this in a press conference, that they would have better lives and jobs.”
She added: “The enticement to go somewhere because of better jobs or opportunities falls squarely under in the definition of trafficking. I do think it’s trafficking.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, argued that Hispanics in her district have expressed “outrage” over the events involving the migrants.
“If this isn’t human trafficking, I don’t know what is, because you are luring people under false pretenses on a plane thinking that they are going somewhere which they are not going,” Taddeo said. “Many of them thought they were going to Boston.” Taddeo is running for Congress — she won in the 2022 August primary and faces off with incumbent U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar in the general election.
Crist warned the matter could hurt DeSantis and other Republicans during the elections. “This is an issue of human decency,” Crist said. “That’s a disaster not just politically but morally.”
DeSantis viewed the episode as a political winner for Republicans the day before, arguing it cast President Joe Biden’s border policies in a bad light.
“If you can do it at the source and divert to sanctuary jurisdictions, the chance they end up in Florida is much less,” he said on Tuesday.
“If I could do it all in Florida, I would. But if we just ignore the source, then you’re going to have people trickling in five, 10 a day, 20 a day, I don’t know. But there’s no way you could possibly track all that because it’s on such a small scale,” DeSantis continued.
The class action, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, asserts 12 counts in all, including illegal seizure and false arrest, plus violation of due process and the right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
It claims the airlift abrogated unto the state the federal government’s authority to set immigration policy and illegally spent money given to the state for COVID relief under the American Rescue Plan. It also claims intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. It seeks injunctive and unspecified monetary damages.
It doesn’t mention “human trafficking” specifically, but comes close, noting that the migrants weren’t informed of their destination until they were close to Martha’s Vineyard.
“By fraudulently inducing individual plaintiffs to cross state lines in the manner described herein, defendants unreasonably seized plaintiffs without just cause,” it says.
“Particularly after the individual plaintiffs had boarded the airplanes and were in mid-air, plaintiffs were not free to leave, and were induced into that condition through false promises and misrepresentations. This constitutes a governmental termination of plaintiffs’ freedom of movement through means intentionally applied,” it adds.
Deputy Editor Michael Moline contributed to this report.
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