By The Associated Press
A total of 16 Venezuelan and Colombian migrants who crossed into the United States through Texas were sent on a chartered plane to California, where they were then "dumped" outside a church in Sacramento, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and pro-immigrant activists said Saturday.
The group of immigrants, young men and women, were abandoned Friday outside the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento with just a backpack of belongings each, said Eddie Carmona, campaign director for the faith-based community group PICO California, which provides assistance to migrants.
The South Americans were processed by U.S. immigration agents and already had a date set for their asylum cases when "individuals representing a private contractor" accosted them outside a migrant center in El Paso, Texas, Carmona said.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement that while the transfer of the immigrants is still under investigation, "we can confirm that these individuals were carrying documents that appear to be from the Florida state government."
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There was no "prior agreement" with the state to let him know the group was to be moved to Sacramento.
Bonta said that "California and the Sacramento community will welcome these individuals with open arms and provide them with the respect, compassion and attention they will need after such a harrowing experience."
"They were intentionally deceived"
Carmona, the religious leader who helps immigrants, said those who moved the group to California told them they would help them get jobs and take them to their final destination.
"They were intentionally lied to and deceived," Carmona said, adding that the migrants had no idea where they were when they were dropped off in Sacramento.
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Gov. Newsom said he and the state attorney general met Saturday with the group of migrants and learned they had been sent from Texas to New Mexico and then transported by chartered jet to Sacramento.
"We are working closely with the mayor's office, local and charitable partners to ensure that these arrivals are treated with respect and dignity, and reach the destination they intended while pursuing their immigration cases," the governor said in a statement.
Newsom said he is also working with the California Department of Justice to find out who covered the cost of transporting the group and "whether the individuals who orchestrated this trip deceived anyone with false promises or committed any criminal offenses, such as kidnapping."
It's not the first flight of immigrants
Last year, the Republican governors of Texas and Florida, Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, respectively, undertook the intense task of flying migrants to Democratic strongholds without warning as part of a campaign to heighten attention on what they described as the Joe Biden administration's failed border policies.
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The most notorious of those flights was the one that transported 50 migrants of Venezuelan and Peruvian origin to Martha's Vineyard Island, in Massachusetts, in October 2022.
The operation ended up uncovering a plot of deception to the migrants, who said that a woman identified as Perla Huerta had promised them jobs and given food stamps to motivate them to board the plane.