TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the state’s controversial "Unauthorized Alien Transport Program," which funds the relocation of undocumented migrants from anywhere in the U.S. to “sanctuary areas” of the country, as “very effective.”
His comments came during a roundtable conversation at a location near the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona Wednesday. DeSantis was joined by a number of sheriffs and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
The program is facing new scrutiny after a Florida agency confirmed they organized two flights that brought 36 migrants from El Paso, Texas, to Sacramento, California, in recent days.
"We know people want to come so the more we can divert, it's good for our state. This policy has been debated for a long time, it’s got overwhelming support from the legislature, these are things that I had to go to them, I wasn't just doing it on my own and I think it's been something that's very, very effective,” DeSantis said.
The state of Florida has paid for four flights so far, it’s unclear when or how many more flights there will be. The legislature approved a $12 million injection for the program and documents obtained by 10 Tampa Bay show that the flights are pricey.
The state paid contractor Vertol Systems $615,000 for “Project 1,” the flights that brought 49 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, back in September.
Between flights, logistics, planning and more, that’s $12,500 a person.
Records also show Vertol received another payment from the state in September, $950,000 for “Projects 2” and 3, which were supposed to take up to 50 migrants each to Delaware, Illinois or other states at the direction of Florida.
Those flights never happened, the contract got extended several times and now the program is being overseen by a new state agency, the Division of Emergency Management.
California officials say the migrants that landed in Sacramento had documents that showed Vertol systems as a contractor.
We are digging to find out the cost of those flights. If the $950,000 payment is where the money came from, it cost roughly $26,000 per person.
Florida law explicitly says the money can be used to move unauthorized migrants from anywhere in the U.S., not just Florida.