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LAT: Migrants Sent to California Say They Were Duped & Abandoned by DeSantis

JUNE 17, 2023

SACRAMENTO —  They saw themselves in the video that Florida officials offered up as proof of their consent to travel to California, but they said it’s not what it seemed.

They were happy, yes. That part was true.

They had finally made it to America after traveling thousands of miles over the span of three months from their home in Venezuela. They walked until their feet bled and caught a bus or a train when they could. Sometimes they went days without eating and collapsed with exhaustion.

Four migrants recently flown to Sacramento by the state of Florida spoke to The Times and asked not to be identified, worried that it could impact their upcoming court hearings or put their families who remain in their home countries in danger.

They are among 36 people who arrived on two chartered flights this month, a move that Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken responsibility for as he runs for president and lambastes Democratic immigration policies.

They say they were duped by Florida officials and that, while they are grateful to be in America, their plans have been disrupted, with immigration hearings now spread across the country and job opportunities stalled.

They said they came to California because they were promised that they would be given a home, higher paying jobs and attorneys to help them more quickly obtain permits to work legally.

A viral video touted by DeSantis promised them so much more, they said.

The contractors hired by Florida state officials, whom they met in Texas earlier this month, promised better-paying jobs elsewhere, they said. The husband and wife said they were pressured to sign paperwork in order to make the trip but didn’t understand that doing so was intended to waive the state of Florida from fulfilling the promises made verbally.

“We didn’t get what they told us that we were going to get. They said that if you take the flight, you can get shelter, you’re going to get work, you’re going to get food,” the man said. “And all we received was abandonment.”

“I didn’t know that all of us were being deceived,” he said.

During the few days they spent in El Paso upon arriving in the United States, they slept at a shelter and got to work immediately. He earned $80 a day working construction, while his wife earned $50 cleaning up the work sites afterward.

They only came to Sacramento because they thought they were going to earn more money, which would allow them to help their children faster, she said. Now, they have no jobs and must start all over again.

Florida officials said in a statement last week that the flights were part of a “voluntary relocation” program and provided video of people appearing to sign waivers agreeing to go on the trip. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is investigating the matter and Gov. Gavin Newsom has floated kidnapping charges against DeSantis.

DeSantis administration officials did not return a request for comment on Friday when asked about the migrants’ claims.

One migrant showed The Times the paperwork that he was given by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which references a “voluntary transportation program” and agrees to not bring any lawsuits against the state of Florida in exchange for free transportation. That man did not sign the waiver, which also asked signatories to agree that their decision to take the trip was not in exchange for “representations or promises” made regarding employment, benefits, healthcare and other assistance.

But that’s exactly what the migrants who spoke to The Times said happened.