A Texas sheriff’s office has recommended that a San Antonio-area district attorney file criminal charges following an investigation into the transportation of 49 asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in the fall, allegedly on direction from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
It is not clear who the charges would be filed against, but the case would include both felony and misdemeanor charges of unlawful restraint, according to the sheriff’s office.
“At this time, the case is being reviewed by the DA’s office. Once an update is available, it will be provided to the public,” said Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Johnny Garcia, a department spokesman. “We’re not naming the suspect at this time or the amount of charges that are being filed.”
The Washington Post reported previously that Bexar Sheriff Javier Salazar signed certificates for each of the migrants involved in the Martha’s Vineyard incident so they would be eligible for what is known as a “U visa” – a category established in 2000 and available to victims of crimes to enable them to provide information to authorities about illegal activity.
The sheriff’s recommendation squares with the way Bexar County routinely breaks from the GOP-led state. The Bexar district attorney was among those last year who said he would not heed a Texas attorney general opinion that said gender-affirming treatments for children constituted child abuse.
DeSantis (R), who recently made a technically challenged Twitter Spaces announcement to kick off his presidential campaign, has been following in the footsteps of other Republican governors who have sought to send migrants to Democratic-led cities. Like migrant drop-offs elsewhere, the ritzy vacation town of Martha’s Vineyard was not ready to receive an influx of people in September.
Addressing the flights in a briefing days afterward, DeSantis said he was trying to block immigrants from eventually arriving in Florida, The Post reported.
“If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” DeSantis said. “And, yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you.”
The flights borrowed a strategy from Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who last year began chartering buses of migrants from Texas to Washington, eventually dropping them off outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris on Christmas Eve.
The state-sponsored buses have transported more than 19,000 migrants to Washington and other sanctuary cities, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and, last month, Denver, according to a recent statement from Abbott’s office.
“Texas’ overwhelmed and overrun border communities should not have to shoulder the flood of illegal immigration due to President Biden’s reckless open border policies,” Abbott said in the statement, vowing to continue busing migrants to sanctuary cities “to provide much-needed relief to our small border towns.”
The Bexar sheriff’s recommendation for criminal charges coincides with a similar dust-up in California.
California officials say the state of Florida picked up asylum seekers on the Texas border Monday and took them by private jet to Sacramento using taxpayer money for the second time in four days, according to the Associated Press. California Attorney General Rob Bonta has said he is investigating how the migrants got there and if they knew where they were being taken.
Bonta told local NBC affiliate KCRA 3 that Florida-based Vertol Systems Co. – the same company that flew the 49 asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard – was contracted to fly the migrants to Sacramento.
“We’ve learned that many of them were told that Vertol Systems would help them find jobs if they got on the plane and traveled to where there were being taken,” Bonta told the station. “We learned that many of them didn’t know where they were being taken and didn’t know where they were until they arrived.”
For the group of 16 taken to the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, he said, Vertol “did not lift a finger to help them find any jobs.” The migrants were told “we’ll be right back” after they were dropped off at the church steps, Bonta said, adding that Vertol had no intention of coming back.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Twitter called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” after the incident. He added “Kidnapping charges?” and included a screenshot and link to the California law regarding kidnapping.
The Washington Post’s Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.