Court Battles

Judge orders release of DeSantis migrant flight records

A state judge on Tuesday ordered Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to release within 20 days documents previously requested under the state’s public records law related to two migrant flights DeSantis sent to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

The Florida Center for Government Accountability (FCGA) had filed multiple records requests last month following the flights and subsequently alleged in court that DeSantis was refusing to produce them.

DeSantis’s attorneys pushed back, arguing that they had not been given a reasonable amount of time to produce the documents, while also indicating they already released some of the requested materials and planned to publish the rest by Dec. 1.

The judge on Tuesday ruled orally from the bench that DeSantis was unlawfully delaying the release of the remaining records, said Michael Barfield, FCGA’s director of public access, although the ruling has not yet appeared in writing on the case docket.

The group, which aids journalists in pursuing government records, filed its first records request on Sept. 20, six days after the two planes chartered by DeSantis’s office landed in Martha’s Vineyard. The group later filed a second records request.

Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’s press secretary, said the governor disagrees with the ruling and plans to appeal.

“This records request came amid a historically devastating hurricane and the Executive Office of the Governor was focused on supporting the needs and recovery of Floridians from Hurricane Ian,” said Griffin. “Regardless, we have already produced a significant number of documents and, as we have already stated, continue to endeavor to do so in a timely manner.”

The Florida Republican became the third GOP governor to transport migrants to northern, Democrat-run cities in protest of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

The governors argue the relocations draw attention to the issue and relieve overwhelmed border communities, but their initiatives have sparked intense anger among Democrats, who view the transports as using the migrants as political pawns.

“If even a fraction of the amount of effort spent by the media and critics to find something to take issue with regarding our relocation program was directed towards securing our southern border, we might actually be able to get the Biden administration to do something about it,” said Griffin.

The Martha’s Vineyard flights took off from Texas and made multiple stops along the way, including one in Florida, flight records show.

DeSantis’s office previously released a trove of documents in response to a public records request that included images of the migrants boarding the flights and texts a DeSantis aide sent to coordinate the relocations.

In court filings, the governor’s attorneys previously indicated the office received more than 90 records requests related to the flights in a matter of days.

Multiple migrants aboard the flights filed a class-action lawsuit against DeSantis last month, alleging they were misled to board the planes after being lured by two individuals near a San Antonio migrant shelter who provided false pretenses.

DeSantis also faces investigations about the flights from the Treasury Department inspector general and a local sheriff in Texas.

This story was updated at 4:24 p.m.

Tags Florida Martha's Vineyard migrant flights migrant flights Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis
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