Groups sue Florida officials over migrant relocation program

Dec 1, 2022, 5:27 PM | Updated: 5:34 pm

MIAMI (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials are being sued in federal court by immigrant rights groups who challenge the constitutionality of the state’s migrant relocation program.

The suit was filed Thursday by three groups — Florida Immigrant Coalition, Americans for Immigrant Justice and Hope Community Center — against DeSantis and state Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature approved a $12 million budget item to relocate people in the U.S. illegally from Florida to another location. The money came from interest earned from federal funds given to Florida under the American Rescue Plan.

The lawsuit claims that the appropriation creates an incoherent definition of “unauthorized alien” that is inconsistent with federal immigration laws. The immigrant rights groups claim that the ill-defined designation may include people whose presence in the country and Florida is authorized by the federal government, but who now risk harassment for merely wishing to either enter or stay in Florida.

In September, Florida officials arranged flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, that carried 49 mostly Venezuelan migrants to the island where former President Barack Obama owns a home. Local officials weren’t told in advance that the migrants were coming.

DeSantis, a Republican, claimed responsibility for the flights as part of a campaign to focus attention on what he has called the Biden administration’s failed border policies. He was joining Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the tactic of sending migrants to Democratic strongholds without advance warning.

The Martha’s Vineyard flight has also spawned lawsuits accusing Florida of lying to the migrants in San Antonio to get them to agree to the flights.

The Florida governor’s office and Department of Transportation didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment from The Associated Press.

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Groups sue Florida officials over migrant relocation program