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In tweaking Florida's secretive migrant flights program, lawmakers ask little, reveal less

Ana Ceballos and Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — Florida lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a measure that would not only expand Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ability to relocate migrants anywhere in the country but would allow his administration to hand out millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies to carry out the secretive program without disclosing details to the public.

Republican lawmakers who are sponsoring the proposal have acknowledged that they do not know how the administration plans to spend $10 million that would be set aside for the immigration program between now and the end of June. The expenses, they said, could include surveillance, reconnaissance and investigations, as well as feeding and housing migrants while they wait for a plane ride.

Lawmakers admitted in hearings Monday in the House and Tuesday in the Senate that they do not have details about how the administration has spent an estimated $2 million on the previous migrant relocation efforts — despite allegations that the covert operation misled some migrants, paid an undocumented worker to recruit passengers and shielded details from the public.

But, they argue, the administration should be given “as much flexibility” as possible to spend future state funds because they consider the nation’s immigration troubles a Florida emergency.

“What this bill is intended to do is to address the surge of unauthorized aliens that are coming into the United States that could choose Florida as their desired location,’’ Republican state Rep. John Snyder, of Stuart, sponsor of the House bill titled “Transportation of Inspected Unauthorized Aliens,” said Monday.

He explained that the costs go beyond transporting them across the country.


“We’re authorizing a program, and we understand to fully execute this program surveillance is needed, reconnaissance is needed, investigative techniques are needed,” Snyder said.

The measures would repeal the law that DeSantis was sued over last year — and replace it with a measure to transfer the migrant relocation program from the Florida Department of Transportation to the Division of Emergency Management, which is working with the federal government on migrant intervention efforts. Legislators are waiving the rules that the program be competitively bid and are not addressing allegations that migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were misled.

“We cannot afford to waste any time to go through the rule-making process and have that dragged out when the need is today,” state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, the Republican sponsor of the bill, told the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Tuesday.

The Senate committee approved the measure, SB 6-B, on Tuesday and the House Appropriations Committee passed a similar HB 5-B on Monday. The measures, which passed both committees along party-line votes, are being considered during a special session, along with several of the governor’s other legislative priorities.


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