Conservative States’ Migrant Transportation Programs

Governors in Florida, Texas, and Arizona have sent immigrants to states hundreds of miles away as part of an exploitative political stunt.

In 2022, the conservative governors of Florida, Texas, and Arizona began sending asylum-seekers and other undocumented immigrants to places like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City in a bid to score points with the anti-immigration wings of their base. 

Early in the year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began arranging buses that would take migrants to cities perceived to be more liberal, prompting outrage from immigrants rights advocates as well as from local officials who struggled to accommodate the sudden and unannounced arrivals. As of September 2022, his administration had relocated more than 10,000 migrants.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also made headlines in September by chartering two flights of about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. The migrants — many of whom said they felt they had been misled with promises of jobs and housingmoved into temporary housing and homeless shelters after receiving support from local nonprofits and communities. And as of October, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration had transported more than 2,000 people to Washington by bus. 

The relocation programs have been roundly criticized as a dehumanizing stunt meant to drum up political support. Through open records requests, American Oversight is investigating the details surrounding these efforts.

In October, American Oversight obtained contract documents for DeSantis’ Sept. 14 flights to Martha’s Vineyard. The records included memos outlining flight costs, requisition and purchase order documents, and the state transportation department’s approval of advance payment to contractor Vertol Systems Company.

Other documents obtained by American Oversight and reported on by the Miami Herald revealed that DeSantis’ office appears to have been in contact with Abbott’s office about the Sept. 14 flight: At some point between Sept. 1 and Sept. 19, DeSantis’ chief of staff, James Uthmeier, shared with Abbott’s chief of staff, Luis Saenz, the contact information of Larry Keefe, DeSantis’ “public safety czar,” who Uthmeier said was the “POC here.” 

Text messages released in November provided further indications that Florida officials coordinated with Texas agencies. They also showed the significant role played by Perla Huerta, who reportedly recruited the migrants, and included messages between Keefe and Vertol CEO James Montgomerie regarding the effort to recruit migrants and plans for future flights. 

American Oversight also filed requests for memos, directives, communications, contracts, and other documents about the migrant transportation programs from the Florida, Texas, and Arizona governor’s offices, as well as other state agencies. We obtained more than 1,000 pages from the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs containing situation reports, passenger data, and other information, as well as a contract between the Arizona Department of Administration and a contractor tasked with executing the busing program.

Related Documents

October 18, 2022

Arizona DEMA Records Related to Gov. Ducey’s Program Chartering Buses to Send Migrants to D.C. and N.Y.

Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs
Agency Record
October 12, 2022

Records Request to Texas Governor’s Office for Texts with Officials from Florida Governor’s Office About the Florida Migrant Relocation Program

Texas Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
September 19, 2022

Records Request to Florida Department of Transportation for Communications with Texas Gov. Abbott About Migrant Transfer Program

Florida Department of Transportation
FOIA Request
September 19, 2022

Records Request to Florida Department of Transportation for Communications About Migrant Transfer Program

Florida Department of Transportation
FOIA Request
September 19, 2022

Records Request to Florida Office of the Governor for Communications with Texas Gov. Abbott About Migrant Transfer Program

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
September 19, 2022

Records Request to Florida Governor’s Office for Records of Communications Regarding State’s Migrant Transfer Program

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
September 19, 2022

Records Request to Florida Governor’s Office for Records Related to Gov. DeSantis’ Migrant Transport Program

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
September 19, 2022

Records Request to the Texas Governor’s Office for Communications with the Florida Government About the Florida Migrant Relocation Program

Texas Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
September 19, 2022

Records Request to Florida Department of Transportation for Records Related to Gov. DeSantis’ Program Which Transports Migrants Out of State

Florida Department of Transportation
FOIA Request
August 4, 2022

Records Request to the Texas Division of Emergency Management for Records Related to Chartering Buses to Send Migrants to Washington, D.C.

Texas Division of Emergency Management
FOIA Request
August 4, 2022

Records Request to the Texas Governor’s Office for Records Related to Chartering Buses to Send Migrants to Washington, D.C.

Texas Office of the Governor
Agency Record