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Delaware prepares for possible plane of migrants landing near Biden’s home courtesy of DeSantis

Sept. 20, 2022 Updated Tue., Sept. 20, 2022 at 7:19 p.m.

There were few signs of activity at Kelly Field in San Antonio on Tuesday morning despite reports of a plane of migrants scheduled to take off from there and fly to Delaware.  (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/TNS)
There were few signs of activity at Kelly Field in San Antonio on Tuesday morning despite reports of a plane of migrants scheduled to take off from there and fly to Delaware. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald/TNS)
By Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas and Alex Roarty Miami Herald

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The next blow in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ battle to fly migrants out of Texas could land in Delaware.

Officials in Delaware said they were preparing for the possible arrival of a flight of migrants from Texas on Tuesday afternoon.

The plane’s flight plan bears the hallmarks of DeSantis’ operation last week to fly 48 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard. But as of noon Eastern time flight records showed the Delaware-bound plane was still on the ground at a regional airport near Longview, Texas, well past its scheduled departure, and hadn’t made it to San Antonio yet. The reason for the delay wasn’t clear.

The flight’s ultimate destination appeared to be a Delaware airport near President Joe Biden’s vacation home, according to data posted on the website FlightAware. It was chartered by the same company, Ultimate JetCharters, that arranged two flights to Martha’s Vineyard last week on behalf of the state of Florida. The aircraft can hold roughly 30 passengers.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, said the state was continuing “to prepare for the possibility of migrants arriving in Delaware unannounced.”

The spokeswoman, Emily David Hershman, said state officials were working with community organizations “to make sure that migrants who arrive here have the support that they need” and were also coordinating with the federal government.

The Delaware flight was scheduled to travel from a regional airport near Longview to Kelly Field in San Antonio Tuesday morning. Its flight plan then had it stopping in Crestview in the Florida Panhandle before touching down at Delaware Coastal Airport in the afternoon. The airport is about 40 minutes from Biden’s vacation home near Rehoboth Beach. There was little sign of activity at Kelly Field on Tuesday morning.

The flight would have been the second instance of DeSantis using Florida taxpayer money to send migrants from a state other than his own – Texas in both instances – to the Northeast. Last Wednesday, the governor acknowledged chartering two flights that carried 48 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, where former President Barack Obama owns a home. One of those two planes was also slated to be used for the Delaware trip.

DeSantis has said the efforts are intended as a message about the record-breaking numbers of migrants crossing the southern border – which he and other Republicans blame on Biden. The governor appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Monday night to discuss the charter flights. He was accompanied by a graphic that said the flights were “just the beginning of efforts to relocate migrants.”

The governor had previously talked about busing migrants to Delaware, although he seemed to drop the idea.

He was expected to give a news conference later Tuesday and may address reports about the flight. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did the governor’s office.

Some migrants said they had been lured onto the Martha’s Vineyard flights with promises of jobs and aid that turned out to be false.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday it was opening an investigation into whether any of the migrants were victims of a crime.

Florida Democratic legislators have called on DeSantis to stop using state money for the relocations. Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a bipartisan budget that authorized a $12 million program for removing “unauthorized aliens from this state.” But none of the migrants have set foot in Florida, except when their planes landed to refuel in the Panhandle on their way north.

At a Monday news conference, House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne of Dania Beach said the flights were “about politics, plain and simple,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

State records show the Department of Transportation recently paid $1.565 million to a contractor with ties to the Panhandle for the relocation program.

It’s not yet clear what role Oregon-based Vertol Systems Company Inc., which has operations in Destin, played in flying the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

Vertol Systems has also received roughly $25 million in federal contracts since 2004, mostly from the Department of Defense, according to a review of a U.S. spending database. Most of the contracts were for flight training, the database shows.

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware on Tuesday called DeSantis’ decision to charter the flights “profoundly regrettable” but said that his state stands ready to help the migrants if they arrive.

“We will be ready to welcome them and support them,” Coons, a Democrat, said during an interview on MSNBC. “Our governor is leading that effort. But the Delaware way is to welcome people and to give them the support they need and deserve in our state.”

He declined to say if he thought the action was illegal.

“What they’ve done is certainly, I think, inhumane,” he said. “I’ll leave it to the sheriff in Texas who’s investigating this to conclude whether or not this was actually luring under false pretenses, the legal standard that amounts to human trafficking or kidnapping.”

In addition to DeSantis’ flights, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has bused migrants to Northeastern cities – including dropping some off at Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C.

Abbott’s office told the Herald that Texas had sent more than 8,100 people to D.C., more than 2,600 to New York City and more than 675 to Chicago, as of Monday.

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(Miami Herald staff writer Ana Ceballos and McClatchy DC staff writers Ben Wieder and Michael Wilner contributed to this report.)

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