DeSantis, White House trade more fire over migrant drop-offs

Planes, buses carrying migrants were sent to Martha's Vineyard and Washington.

September 16, 2022, 5:20 PM

Political fallout continued Friday as Democrats and Republicans sounded off about the transportation of migrants from border states to cities and areas run by Democrats.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, escalated their months-long effort to push migrants to Democratic areas by sending approximately 100 migrants to Martha's Vineyard and near Vice President Kamala Harris's Washington residence.

Republicans are cheering the move while President Joe Biden and Democrats condemn it as a heartless political stunt.

The feud underscores the political headache immigration poses for the Biden administration this midterm election cycle amid an influx of asylum seekers.

"All we're trying to do is offer transport to sanctuary jurisdictions, free to the alien, but certainly not mandatory," DeSantis said at a press conference on Friday. "And that way they're able to go and these sanctuary jurisdictions can put their money where their mouth is."

DeSantis acknowledged that the migrants he flew to Martha's Vineyard were from Texas, not Florida, but claimed many had their sights set on making their way to his state. He also promised more migrant vans would be sent as he plans to use all the money in the state budget for this relocation program.

"I have $12 million for us to use and so we are going to use it and you're gonna see more and more," DeSantis said. "I'm going to make sure that we exhaust all those funds."

PHOTO: Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP, FILE

The White House, meanwhile, continued to fire back at Republicans who they say are interfering with the federal process for managing migrants and even putting them at risk.

"These are the kinds of tactics we see from smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala. And for what? A photo op?" press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during Friday's press briefing.

Reporting on the ground this week painted a confusing and chaotic situation as local officials said they received no notice that the migrants were being transported. Massachusetts State Senator Julian Cyr told ABC News' Brad Mielke that one migrant he spoke to "referred to a feeling of essentially being kidnapped."

Jean-Pierre cited reports from NPR and other outlets stating migrants thought they were being transported to other cities, not Martha's Vineyard or northwestern Washington.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has formally asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether DeSantis broke any criminal or civil violations of federal law.

Charlie Crist, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, is filing a Sunshine Law request for all emails, texts and all forms of internal communication regarding DeSantis's decision to fly migrants to the island south of Cape Cod.

Jean-Pierre repeatedly deflected questions about a potential legal response from the administration, stating any decision would come from the Department of Justice -- which has yet to publicly comment on this issue.

PHOTO: Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds the daily press briefing at the White House, Sept. 16, 2022.
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds the daily press briefing at the White House, Sept. 16, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

DeSantis and Abbott both denied Friday that migrants were misled.

"These are voluntary transportation that they're signing up for," DeSantis said. "But they're given a good ride, they're given everything … What's not humane is what Biden is doing. He's false given a false promise that the borders open, luring people out here for political purposes, and then basically cutting these people loose and leaving them high and dry."

The White House has defended the administration's work on immigration challenges so far, stating they inherited a broken system from the Trump administration.

President Biden, speaking at a gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Thursday night, said his administration was dedicated to finding a solution but offered no concrete steps to further alleviate the situation.

"We're committed to fixing the immigration system," Biden said. "Instead of working with us on solutions, Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props. What they're doing is simply wrong."

- ABC News' Miles Cohen, Quinn Owen and Armando Garcia contributed to this report.