(The Center Square) – Florida will continue transporting foreign nationals in the U.S. illegally north for at least another eight months, according to a state contract and purchase orders reviewed and first reported by the Sun Sentinel.
They are being transported by Vertol Systems Co., a comprehensive transportation service provider, which was granted a contract by the Florida Department of Transportation. Transportation services are to continue through June 30, 2023, according to the contract.
According to FDOT, Vertol was retained to provide “transportation-related and humanitarian relocation service to implement a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens.” The range of services it’s tasked with providing include “project management, aircraft, crew, maintenance logistics, fuel, coordination and planning, route preparation, route services, landing fees, ground handling and logistics,” among others.
Vertol submitted a request for payment for $615,000 for overseeing two flights that transported 100 people to Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 7 and 15, according to the documents made public by FDOT.
Transporting the foreign nationals out of Florida is costing Florida taxpayers $325,000 per flight for up to eight passengers, $485,000 per flight for up to 25 passengers, and $625,000 per flight for up to 65 passengers, according to the documents.
The flights are voluntary. Passengers are given waivers in their language to agree to and sign before boarding, the governor’s office said. No one boards a flight without informed consent and without signing a waiver, DeSantis’ spokesperson has said.
The state legislature allocated $12 million for the transportation initiative, receiving bipartisan approval earlier this year.
While Democrats have argued the transportation plan is inhumane or liken it to human trafficking, both DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who’s bused people to three sanctuary cities in blue states, argue their efforts are legal and more transparent than what the federal government has been doing, including flying foreign nationals in the middle of the night to states such as Florida with no notice.
Last November at a news conference with Jacksonville’s mayor, DeSantis said, “Here’s what happens with these flights. There’s no notification to the state of Florida. These are done mostly in the middle of the night. And it’s clandestine.”
Neither the state nor the city were given notice of flights arriving with people from the border, DeSantis said, prompting Florida to sue the Biden administration. The lawsuit alleges the administration is violating federal immigration law enacted by Congress that requires those entering the U.S. illegally to be detained and removed.
As part of the lawsuit, officials in Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office deposed key Biden administration officials who testified that the southern border “is currently in a crisis” and that ICE agents are removing seven times fewer people who entered the U.S. illegally in the past year than it did 10 years ago.
“Congress has commanded the Executive Branch to detain arriving aliens until a final decision is made regarding removal” regardless of how the individual enters the U.S. through a port of entry or in-between ports of entry, Florida’s lawsuit states.
“Even though Congress has spoken unambiguously, the Biden administration is willfully ignoring these requirements. It has released at least 366,000 illegal border crossers since taking office,” as of February 2022.
Among those released into the U.S., Department of Homeland Security disclosed that the more than 48,000 who indicated that Florida was their primary destination failed to check in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to discovery documents in the case.
“The federal government now has no idea of these individuals’ location or activity – even though most are legally inadmissible,” Moody said.
The federal government was “not only unlawfully releasing aliens” but also “frequently refusing to initiate immigration court proceedings as required by law,” according to the brief. “Taking the challenge policies together, the government is violating clear congressional commands tens of thousands of times per month,” as of February 2022, it states.
The president and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas argue the border is secure and their focus is ensuring a “safe, orderly process.” At an Aspen Security event in July, Mayorkas said, “the border is secure. We are working to make the border more secure. That has been a historic challenge.”
In April, when testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Mayorkas blamed the previous administration for record numbers of people pouring through the southern border.
“We inherited a broken and dismantled system that is already under strain … only Congress can fix this,” he said. “Yet, we have effectively managed an unprecedented number of non-citizens seeking to enter the United States.”
When asked by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., why DHS wasn’t prioritizing removals of foreign nationals illegally in the U.S., and how many ICE agents he needed to deport them, Mayorkas replied, “Congressman, I think what we need is legislation to fix the broken immigration system.”
Prior to the hearing, Gaetz asked Mayorkas to provide data about removal proceedings, noting that, “It would take 14.5 years to deport just the aliens DHS has released under the Biden Administration, when we have near 1.9 million aliens eligible for deportation currently.”