Migrants in Sacramento receive food, housing as California officials weigh charges against Florida

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Religious groups worked Tuesday to feed and house South American migrants who were flown to Sacramento under allegedly false pretenses. Meanwhile, California officials were weighing whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration should face kidnapping or other charges for arranging the flights.

About three dozen asylum-seekers, mostly from Colombia and Venezuela, arrived in the California capital on two charter flights after, according to officials, they were promised jobs by people purporting to work for Florida's government. DeSantis and Florida lawmakers approved state funding to transport immigrants to other states, even if they never step foot in Florida, and carried out similar flights from Texas to Massachusetts last year.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and faith-based groups that have been assisting the migrants said they come together to help the newcomers, who are staying at two undisclosed locations in Sacramento and have been given food, clothing and cellphones to contact their families.

"Sacramento should be a model for the rest of the state and the rest of the nation," Steinberg said at a news conference Tuesday.

Gabby Trejo, executive director of Sacramento ACT, a collaboration of religious congregations in the Sacramento area, said the young migrants told advocates that they're ready to work and contribute to the community. All of the migrants had already been given pending court dates by U.S. immigration officials before they were approached in El Paso, Texas, by people promising jobs, she said.

"They couldn't have landed in a better place because Sacramentans know what it means to come together and we are here to walk with them," Trejo said.

DeSantis and other Florida officials haven't confirmed or denied the state's involvement in transporting the migrants. The governor didn't mention the flights during a Tuesday bill-signing ceremony, and his administration hasn't provided information on the flights despite multiple requests by The Associated Press.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said he's investigating whether criminal or civil charges can be pursued, and Newsom tweeted that kidnapping charges could be on the table.

DeSantis announced his presidential bid just weeks ago, and he's been quick to highlight his role in moving migrants last year to the pricey Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.

His latest apparent move to send migrants to California's capital city appears to be a direct shot at Newsom. Though Newsom has no plans to run for president in 2024, he and DeSantis have frequently used each other as political foils as they cast their own governing approach as a model for the nation. Beyond immigration policy, the two have sparred on abortion access, LGBTQ+ and civil rights, and a host of other cultural issues.

On the campaign trail, DeSantis has been eager to slap at progressive policies in Democratic strongholds such as New York and California, claiming that Florida's population boom in recent years has been driven by people fleeing blue-state policies.

DeSantis is currently positioned as the strongest Republican alternative to former President Donald Trump in the GOP's crowded primary, although Trump maintains a big lead in early polls.

It's not yet clear if the new arrivals in Sacramento plan to stay in California or will eventually seek to go elsewhere, advocates said. Four who arrived on the first flight on Friday have already been picked up by friends or family members, but the rest remain in the care of local advocacy groups.

Since they arrived, advocates have taken the migrants to a thrift store to pick out clothing and have let them choose what meals to eat.

"We're allowing them to define what their needs are and how we can best meet them," said Cecilia Flores, of Sacramento ACT.

None of the recent arrivals spoke during a Tuesday news conference.

Bonta, who met with some of the migrants who arrived Friday, said they told him they were approached by two women who spoke broken Spanish and promised them jobs. The women traveled with them by land from El Paso to Deming, New Mexico, where two men then accompanied them on the flight to Sacramento. The same men were on the flight Monday, Bonta said.

"To see leaders and governments of other states and the state of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, acting with cruelty and inhumanity and moral bankruptcy and being petty and small and hurtful and harmful to those vulnerable asylum seekers is blood-boiling," Bonta said in a Monday interview.

Some of the migrants who arrived Friday told Bonta they met on their nearly three-month journey to the United States and decided to stick together to keep each other safe as they slept on the streets in several countries, he said.

The migrants carried documents that mentioned the state of Florida and one of its chosen vendors for transporting people, Bonta said. He added that the document "purports to be a consent and release form" that is designed to shield Florida from liability.

"Of course, what's important is what is actually said and represented and told to the individuals and we've got good indications of what that was and the fact that it was false, misleading, and deceptive," he said.

As the migrants arrived in California Monday, a Texas sheriff's office announced it had recommended criminal charges over the two flights to Martha's Vineyard last year.

Johnny Garcia, a spokesman for the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, said the office is not naming suspects at this time. It's not clear whether the local district attorney will pursue the charges, which include misdemeanor and felony counts of unlawful restraint, according to the sheriff's office.

Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Fla., Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed.

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