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 housing — moved 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.