By Melissa Alonso, Nouran Salahieh, Isabel Rosales and Jaide Garcia, CNN
(CNN) — An investigation is underway after over a dozen migrants arrived in Sacramento, California, by private jet “with no prior arrangement or care in place,” Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta said Saturday.
California officials on Saturday met with the group, who had documentation “purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida,” Bonta said.
The immigrants were taken from Texas to New Mexico, then flown by private chartered jet to California, where they were “dumped on the doorstep of a local church without any advance warning,” Newsom said in a statement.
The state’s attorney general is investigating the incident and “evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants,” Bonta said in a statement.
The circumstances around who paid for the group’s travel, and whether the migrants were misled with false promises, will be investigated, according to the governor.
CNN has reached out to state officials from Texas and Florida for comment.
Migrants were promised ‘jobs’ and ‘free support,’ non-profit says
Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT), a non-profit group of local religious congregations, says 16 migrants from Venezuela and Colombia were dropped off by the private jet at a Sacramento airport and taken by bus to the front office of the Diocese of Sacramento in California, where they were left.
ACT says it is assisting the migrants, who had been in El Paso, Texas. They were approached at a migrant center there by “individuals representing a private contractor stating that they would assist them in getting to a migrant center providing them with jobs and other free support,” according to ACT.
The migrants are men and women between 20 and 30 years old, said ACT spokesperson Cecilia Flores. She said they did not know each other before being “recruited.”
They told Flores that two individuals approached them outside a migrant center in El Paso and said they could assist them if they were willing to travel to a migrant center. They were told they wouldn’t have to pay anything, Flores said, and when they arrived at the refuge, the individuals said the migrants “would be able to receive employment assistance, and jobs and clothing and shelter.”
They were driven to New Mexico, where they stayed the night at a hotel Thursday, and were flown by a private plane to Sacramento on Friday morning. Upon arrival at the airport, they were driven by bus to the church office.
Once they were dropped off, the driver rang the doorbell of the building, telling the group they would be right back, but “the bus pulled away and they never came back,” Flores told CNN. One of the migrants told Flores they attempted to reach the driver through a contact number they were given, but the driver’s cell phone was no longer working.
They were “shaken up” after being dropped off at the diocese, she said.
“They started to ask, ‘What city is this? What state are we in?’” Flores said, adding they only had their backpacks and the clothes on their backs. “Many of them did not know Sacramento was in California,” she said, “I believe they were just told, ‘We’ll take you to this refuge where they’ll be able to help you.’ I’m not sure if they even knew how far they would be traveling.”
“They were given false promises and were transported to a place they didn’t know and were really just abandoned,” Flores said, adding that she was shocked at the “lack of humanity and the way that they have not been treated with care and have been lied to.”
“What has occurred recently with the deceiving drop off of our undocumented brothers and sisters into the Sacramento area grieves my heart,” Rev. Efrem Smith, president of Sacramento ACT, said in a statement. “This political polarizing act is heartbreaking and yet I rejoice that I am part of a movement that brings the love of God and goodwill upon the injustices and political wickedness that impacts our vulnerable brothers and sisters.”
Rabbi Mona Alfi of the Congregation B’nai Israel responded to the situation saying, “Taking people from one state to another under deception and political malice is a moral travesty. These are human beings, no different than you or me, who simply want to take care of their families and live a peaceful life, and they deserve to be treated better.”
Similar to previous incidents
It’s not the first time a plane carrying migrants has arrived unannounced in a Democratic state. Late last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent two planes carrying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Migrants have also been bused to New York and other more liberal cities by Republican governors and local officials from southern states amid a humanitarian crisis at the southern US border.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a legal team representing migrants transported to Martha’s Vineyard, has deployed to offer legal assistance to those in Sacramento, the group said in a news release Monday. Similar to their clients in Martha’s Vineyard, the group said, “the migrants were simply abandoned outside a church in Sacramento.”
“We are investigating this latest incident, to determine whether … these most recent migrants were lied to and deceived in order to induce them to travel,” the statement said.
Many who head to the US make long and dangerous treks in hopes of finding a better, safer life for their families. People immigrate to flee violence, for economic opportunities or to reunite with family members, experts say.
“California and the Sacramento community will welcome these individuals with open arms ad provide them with the respect, compassion, and care they will need after such a harrowing experience,” Bonta said.
The state is working with the Sacramento mayor’s office and local groups to make sure that the migrants “are treated with respect and dignity and get to their intended destination as they pursue their immigration cases,” Newsom said.
Bonta said the state will “continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting.
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