US Senator Ed Markey led six fellow Massachusetts Democrats in the House Friday in calling on the Treasury Department to investigate Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis’ apparent misuse of federal Covid-19 relief funds to send two migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard this week.
Markey and Reps. Jake Auchincloss, Bill Keating, Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, and Lori Trahan sent a letter to the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) in light of the Governor’s use of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLRFF) “to cruelly relocate vulnerable immigrants from Florida to other states across the country.”
The lawmakers suggested that the state’s “inhumane agenda” violates federal law and urged the OIG to not only investigate, but to “take all necessary action, including the potential reversal of any misappropriated funds, to end this abuse of coronavirus relief programs.”
Apparently lured by false promises of jobs, a migrant from Peru and 49 migrants from Venezuela, including children, were flown to the island community in Massachusetts on Wednesday. As locals welcomed them and rushed to provide them with food, clothing and shelter, DeSantis came under heavy criticism for what lawmakers and others denounced as a “political stunt.” .
To accomplish this, the lawmakers’ letter explains, “DeSantis operated a $12 million program that the Florida Legislature created earlier this year to enable the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to ‘facilitate the transportation of ‘strangers not allowed out of Florida’.”
The letter points out that “the $12 million was funded by “interest revenue associated with the Federal State and Local Fiscal Stimulus Fund,” effectively using Covid-19 aid to score points. policies by exploiting vulnerable immigrants”.
This defeats the intent of Congress for the SLFRF, which was created with the American Rescue Plan Act, the letter states:
As explained in the Treasury Department’s final rule implementing the Fund, the SLFRF was intended to “combat the pandemic and support families and businesses grappling with its public health and economic impacts; maintain vital public services, even amid income declines resulting from the crisis; and build a strong, resilient and equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity.” This rule further identified a limited set of uses for SLFRF funds, including replacing lost industry revenue public health, responding to the dramatic impact of the pandemic on public health and the economy, paying a bonus to essential workers, and investing in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
Although the rule was designed to provide flexibility to state and local governments, Congress did not intend to authorize or authorize state governments to use SLFRF funds for law enforcement. on immigration. Nothing in the American Rescue Plan Act or the final Treasury rule appears to allow states to use SLFRF funds to remove or relocate immigrants. Florida therefore appears to be illegally using taxpayers’ money for theatrics intended to criminalize and stigmatize immigrants seeking a better life in the United States.
The seven Massachusetts Democrats are not the only personalities to call for an investigation.
DeSantis’ Democratic challenger for governor, Charlie Crist, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, have both openly supported the involvement of the US Department of Justice, the latter to suggest in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that the Florida Republican’s actions could lead to kidnapping charges.
On Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre compared DeSantis and Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott relocating asylum seekers to the actions of smugglers.
“These vulnerable migrants would have been misled about their destination – they would have been told they would be going to Boston, they would have been misled about what would be provided to them upon arrival, they would have been promised shelter, refuge, benefits, etc.”, said Jean-Pierre. “It’s the kind of tactics we see from smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala. And what for? A photo op.”
Axios reported that flight records indicate planes chartered by DeSantis flew from San Antonio, Texas to begging Florida before landing in Massachusetts. After spending two nights at a church in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants were offered temporary housing on Joint Base Cape Cod on Friday.
“We are grateful to the vendors, volunteers and local officials who have stepped up on Martha’s Vineyard over the past few days to provide immediate services to these individuals,” said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. “Our administration has worked within the state government to develop a plan to ensure that these people will have access to the services they need in the future, and Joint Base Cape Cod is well equipped to meet those needs.”
Meanwhile, in Florida, religious and immigrant leaders gathered Friday to call on DeSantis.
“Why does this look so bad?” Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) spokeswoman Stephanie Wall asked about the governor’s stunt just weeks before his election. “Because it’s wrong. Governor DeSantis, it’s anti-family, anti-freedom, anti-faith and anti-opportunity.”
Founder of the HOPE Community Center, Sister Ann Kendrick, said, “I think Jesus would cry” and thanked “the good, hard-working people of Martha’s Vineyard…for stepping up and helping these immigrants who were lied to.”