The Phoenix Flyer

Senator concedes defeat in legal challenge to DeSantis’ migrant flights

By: - February 22, 2023 6:02 pm

Sen. Jason Pizzo. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

A state senator waived the white flag on his lawsuit challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’ migrant flights, conceding during a court hearing Wednesday that the Florida Legislature has repealed aspects targeted in the litigation while reauthorizing the program.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, who is an attorney, still objects to the rejiggered version that cleared the House and Senate last week during a special legislative session but told Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper that, in light of the Legislature’s action, a court of law is not the best place to make his case.

“I think probably a more proper forum is the court of public opinion at this point,” Pizzo said.

“As my mother told me last night, let it go,” he added.

Cooper subsequently dismissed Pizzo’s case, closing this challenge to the transport program, which remains subject to a putative federal class action filed in Massachusetts.

The DeSantis administration relied on a state budget provision authorizing $12 million in interest on federal COVID aid last year to fly nearly 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

The actual budget language specified removals from Florida. Pizzo cited that discrepancy in his lawsuit, as well as failure to adhere to the Florida Constitution’s ban on enacting substantive programs through budget language.

The new law retroactively OKed last year’s flights and created a $10 million “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program” within the Florida Division of Emergency Management to arrange “transport of inspected unauthorized aliens within the United States, consistent with federal law.” That means the state or its contractors could scoop asylum seekers or others admitted on humanitarian ground anywhere.

Pizzo still thinks the revised program improperly treads on federal authority to enforce immigration law, but said it would be up to the Biden administration to enforce that law.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.