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White House preparing for DeSantis migrant flights to Delaware as state agencies ready response

Aid groups are ‘prepared to welcome these families in an orderly manner as they pursue their asylum claims,’ according to press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 20 September 2022 18:14 BST
Sheriff says migrants were 'lured' onto flights to Massachusetts
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The White House is coordinating with state officials and aid groups preparing for the potential arrival of a plane with migrants sent from Texas to coastal Delaware near the beach home of President Joe Biden.

The flight, due to arrive on Tuesday afternoon, could mark the second flight within a week organised by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration to move people seeking asylum in San Antonio to northeastern towns.

“We are coordinating closely with state officials and local service providers who are prepared to welcome these families in an orderly manner as they pursue their asylum claims,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Governor DeSantis said he “cannot confirm” reports of the flight during a separate briefing in Florida on Tuesday.

Delaware agencies and humanitarian aid groups are bracing for the flight’s arrival following news of the flight’s travel path, set to land roughly 20 miles from the Bidens’ home in Rehoboth Beach.

A spokesperson for Governor John Carney said the office was aware of a potential arrival and preparing a response from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and Delaware Department of Health and Social Services in coordination with local groups.

“We’re gonna be as generous as we can be and do exactly what Jesus told us to do, which is love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” St Paul’s Episcopal Church Pastor Elizabeth Kaeton told Delaware’s The News Journal.

Last week, Governor DeSantis arranged unannounced flights for 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, where aid groups and state agencies rushed to provide shelter, food and legal support.

Attorneys for a group of migrants have alleged that people working with Florida officials coerced migrants to board the flights with false promises of cash assistance, employment and housing, with mocked-up brochures made to look like official-looking documents advertising government assistance.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, whose district includes San Antonio, also is investigating allegations that the passengers were fraudulently “lured” to board the flights.

Governor DeSantis’s state-funded plan joins Republican governors in several states who have bused thousands of migrants to Democratic-leading cities to protest “sanctuary” policies and what they have characterised as a crisis at the US-Mexico border created by the Biden administration.

Last week, following the flights to Martha’s Vineyard, US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas wrote “Rehoboth Beach, Delaware next” and tagged Texas Governor Greg Abbot and Mr DeSantis in his post on Twitter.

“The only thing I hear them getting upset about it is 50 who end up in Martha’s Vineyard,” Governor DeSantis said during an unrelated press conference on Tuesday. “Sanctuary jurisdictions should bear the brunt of the open borders.”

The governor claimed that the president “inherited a border that wasn’t like this,” but did not mention the anti-immigration agenda under Donald Trump that rejected entry for people seeking asylum while overseeing border law enforcement that operated with impunity, accelerating a crisis as millions collapse, violence and corruption in Mexico and Central and South America.

“He has created a crisis,” according to the governor.

Flight trackers show that a plane potentially carrying migrants was set to depart San Antonio this morning before continuing towards Delaware.

According to state records, the DeSantis administration has spent more than $1.5m on contracts with aviation firms for migrant flights, part of a $12m state-funded prorgramem to remove migrants from the state, which has faced intense political and legal scrutiny, with attorneys and advocates demanding federal probes and law enforcement actions.

Million of people have fled Venezeula following that country’s economic and political collapse, medicine and food shortages and threats of violence.

The number of Venezuelans seeking entry into the US has steadily climbed in recent years. In July, US Customs and Border Protection officials reported encounters with Venezeulan migrants reached more than 17,00 – triple the number that was reported one month earlier.

“Failing” regimes in Venezuela as well as Cuba and Nicaragua “are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest US border,” according to a statement from US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus.

Mr Jean-Pierre said the administration has “put forth a solution on how to move foward [with immigration reform] but what Republicans want to do ... is [move] forward with political stunts.”

“When you think about what’s going on in Venezuela, when you think about what’s going on in Nicaragua, when you think about what’s going on in Cuba – they are fleeing political persecution only to be used as a political pawn by the Florida governor,” she said.

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