Texas Sheriff Getting Threats After Saying He’d Investigate DeSantis for Migrant Plane Stunt

After the Florida governor sent dozens of people seeking asylum from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, a local sheriff says he believes laws were broken.
Rafael Eduardo (left) an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela hugs another immigrant outside of the Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, on Marthas Vineyard. Photo by Dominic Chavez

A Texas sheriff announced Monday that he would investigate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration flying Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week.

And now, his office says, it’s received “numerous threats.”

Sheriff Javier Salazar of Bexar County, where the flight last week originated, announced Monday that he was opening an investigation into the flight. The sheriff told reporters that he believes the migrants were “lured” to Martha’s Vineyard under “false pretenses” for a “photo-op and stranded,” and that both county and federal laws were broken.

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On Tuesday, a spokesperson from the Bexar County Sheriff’s office told VICE News in an email that “there have been numerous threats, an influx of calls to our dispatch and administrative offices, along with hateful emails received” since the investigation was announced.

“Additionally, as in any instance when our office receives threats precautionary measures will be made for safety of all personnel,” the spokesperson said. 

After the plane carrying the 48 migrants touched down in Martha’s Vineyard last week, local officials blasted the DeSantis administration for allegedly making false promises to the migrants. Migrants were offered “eight months cash assistance,” “food,” “housing,” and “job placements,” according to a brochure given to the migrants which was published by the newsletter Popular Information on Monday

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat who represents the Martha’s Vineyard area, called DeSantis’s move “fucking depraved.” On Sunday, Fernandes called for a federal trafficking probe “to hold DeSantis (and) others accountable for these inhumane acts.” 

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On Tuesday afternoon, the migrants filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis and the Florida Department of Transportation, according to Popular Information.

DeSantis, who is up for re-election this year, has become one of the most popular figures in the Republican party due to his relentless hostility towards his perceived political enemies and the media, and has been rumored as a potential candidate in 2024. DeSantis’s campaign and PAC have raised a combined $178 million this year, a gubernatorial fundraising record, according to OpenSecrets.

DeSantis asked for and secured $12 million in the Florida state budget earlier this year for an “immigration relocation program.” 

After saying last month that he would bus migrants to President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware, the same plane used in last week’s flight was scheduled to depart Longview, Texas today and land in Georgetown, Delaware, according to FlightAware. Vertol Systems, the same company that the state of Florida paid $650,000 for the flight last week, was paid another $950,000 Monday, according to state records. The company’s contract is for Florida’s “relocation program of unauthorized aliens.” 

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After multiple delays, however, the flight from east Texas rerouted to Nashville, and is now scheduled to land in Bergen County, New Jersey Tuesday evening. It’s unclear why the flight was re-routed and who the passengers are. However, local officials say they are prepared in case migrants are dropped off. 

The office of Delaware Gov. John Carney did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News, but told The News Journal that Delaware’s emergency management and health and social services agencies “are working with community organizations and other partners to make sure that migrants who arrive here have the support that they need.”

Georgetown is located roughly 40 minutes miles west of the North Shores beach community, where President Joe Biden owns a beach house, but the more rural Georgetown is a minority-majority community with one of the highest concentrations of Guatemalan-Americans in the country. 

On Tuesday, Biden was asked about the plane and told White House reporters that DeSantis “should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.” 

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On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a press conference that he “cannot confirm” he was flying migrants to Delaware. He also offered up a confusing defense of why his administration went to another state to purposefully seek out migrants to ship them elsewhere. 

“The problem is we’re not seeing mass movements [of migrants] into Florida, so you end up in a car with maybe two [migrants],” DeSantis said. “It’s just coming in onesie-twosies. We’ve had people on the border since last summer…everyone down there will say between 30 and 40 percent of the people coming across are seeking to end up in Florida.” 

DeSantis said during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Monday that the migrant flight was “voluntary,” and called claims that he trafficked them “nonsense.”

“[Democrats] accused the governors of Arizona, Texas, and me of political stunts dealing with illegal immigration,” DeSantis told Hannity, referring to Texas and Arizona bussing migrants to Washington D.C. and New York City. “But the biggest stunt was Biden coming into office and reversing [former President Donald] Trump’s [immigration] policies.”

Community services groups in Massachusetts mobilized to provide the migrants who landed in Martha’s Vineyard, who included small children and the elderly, with food and shelter. The migrants were later taken to Joint Base Cape Cod, where they are now being provided with services, according to the Cape Cod Times

In Delaware, a pastor at an Episcopal church in Georgetown was ready to welcome migrants Tuesday. 

"If this happens,” Pastor Elizabeth Kaeton told the News Journal, “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.” 

Additional reporting by Tess Owen.