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Authorities in California are investigating who is behind the transportation of 16 migrants who ended up on the doorstep of a diocese in Sacramento Friday after being flown on a private charter jet from New Mexico.
The Venezuelan and Colombian migrants entered the United States in El Paso and had been processed by American immigration officials with court dates for asylum claims, according to the Associated Press. After crossing, “individuals representing a private contractor” offered to get them to their final destination, said Eddie Carmona, campaign director for PICO California, a nonprofit that describes itself as “spiritually-rooted individuals who take action for racial and economic justice in California.” From El Paso, the migrants were transported to New Mexico and then to California, ending up at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
“They were lied to and intentionally deceived,” said Carmona.
No politician or group has claimed responsibility for the transportation of the migrants, the Los Angeles Times notes. California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said he met with some migrants alongside California Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, who said authorities “can confirm these individuals were in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida.”
“We are working closely with the Mayor’s office, along with local and nonprofit partners to ensure the people who have arrived are treated with respect and dignity, and get to their intended destination as they pursue their immigration cases,” Newsom said in a statement.
“My Administration is also working with the California Department of Justice to investigate the circumstances around who paid for the group’s travel and whether the individuals orchestrating this trip misled anyone with false promises or have violated any criminal laws, including kidnapping,” Newsom added.
While admitting he was still investigating and collecting evidence, Bonta suggested the incident could be “state-sanctioned kidnapping.” He added, “We must condemn the cruelty and hateful rhetoric of those … who refuse to recognize humanity.”
Today I met with over a dozen migrants who were brought to Sacramento by private plane, with no prior arrangement or care in place.
We are investigating the circumstances by which these individuals were brought to California. pic.twitter.com/UXY2yKvKwl
— Rob Bonta (@AGRobBonta) June 4, 2023
“Human trafficking is not only despicable; it’s a felony,” Sacramento Democratic Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a statement. “Whoever is behind this must answer the following: Is there anything more cruel than using scared human beings to score cheap political points?”
According to ABC 10, “The migrants did not know where they were and only had a backpack’s worth of belongings.”
The L.A. Times notes a similar incident happened last year when eight Venezuelan migrants were transported from Texas to Sacramento. In that case, it was also unclear who paid for the flights.