California officials urged to help migrants flown to Sacramento secure visas for crime victims

Migrants processed by U.S. Border Patrol receive assistance at the Regional Center for Border Health.
Migrants processed by U.S. Border Patrol receive assistance at the Regional Center for Border Health to relocate outside of Yuma, Ariz., on May 12.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

More than four dozen immigrant rights groups sent a letter Wednesday to California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, urging him to help 36 migrants who were flown to Sacramento by Florida contractors secure visas to remain in the U.S.

The news comes as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he had sent a busload of migrants to Los Angeles, saying in a news release that “border towns remain overwhelmed.” The 42 migrants, including eight children, arrived at Union Station on Wednesday afternoon. Texas and Arizona leaders have bused thousands of migrants to Democratic strongholds since last year.

Bonta demanded records Wednesday from Florida authorities that could shed light on the decisions that led to the transport of those migrants, which he has called a manipulative political stunt. The attorney general’s office is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the transport and evaluating potential criminal or civil action if those orchestrating the trip are found to have misled migrants or violated laws against kidnapping.


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that migrants had been transported from Texas to Los Angeles and dropped off at Union Station.

June 14, 2023

“We need to understand the circumstances that led to the implementation of this operation — which was apparently paid for by Florida taxpayer dollars — and the decisions and directives that led to this questionable act,” Bonta said in a statement. “The information gathered will be crucial in determining whether the law has been violated and, if so, what subsequent steps are required to prevent such disregard for human rights from recurring.”

On June 2 and 5, two groups of migrants from Venezuela and Colombia were driven from El Paso to New Mexico and then flown to Sacramento. Those arriving June 2 were left at the door of the Catholic Diocese with documents from Florida’s “Voluntary Migrant Transport Program.” Florida officials pushed back on the allegation that migrants were misled or transported against their will.

Vertol Systems Co., the contractor that facilitated the transport, also coordinated similar flights for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that took dozens of Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last year.

The migrants flown to Sacramento told officials they were promised someone would help them find work. At the Catholic Diocese, two men said they would return but drove off, leaving the migrants behind, Bonta said.

Migrants who were recruited for the trip but didn’t go told The Times that the contractors were aggressively insistent. One woman said the contractor told her she would have her immigration court date changed if she agreed to go to L.A.

Migrants in Texas say contractors working for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed them to board flights to California, promising shelter and immigration aid.

June 10, 2023

Bonta sent two public records requests to DeSantis’ office seeking communications, instructions and records between Florida officials and private entities involved in the transports, including bids submitted in response to a request for proposal published May 8 by Florida’s Division of Emergency Management for a migrant transportation program.


California Gov. Gavin Newsom sparred with Fox News Host Sean Hannity on Monday night, telling him: “I sat down with these migrants. I talked to every single one of them. They were lied to. They were misled.”

The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, which has provided legal support to the migrants flown to Sacramento, was among the lead signatories asking Bonta to provide migrants who have cooperated with his investigation a certification that would make them eligible to apply for a U visa.

The status was designated by Congress to encourage immigrant victims to report serious crimes and cooperate with law enforcement. Applicants face a years-long backlog, but certain applicants can receive deportation protection and work permits while they wait.

Kidnapping and human trafficking are among the qualifying crimes for a U visa. Bonta’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.

“These individuals are not only just a problem that was foisted upon us, but they are victims of misconduct,” said Marcus Tang, citizenship and immigration project director at CRLAF. “They are at the center of this massive political debate and it’s not fair to them that this happened. They deserve dignity and protection.”

Tang said it’s not guaranteed that every one of the affected migrants would apply for a U visa or receive one. Some might also qualify for asylum, he said, and limited legal resources make it difficult to pursue multiple options. But obtaining a certification at least offers them the option, he said — and gives state leaders a chance to provide humanitarian support.


Bonta wouldn’t be the first to offer such a benefit. After 49 migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard last September, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in Texas signed U visa certifications for all of them.