The White House and the office of the Governor of Delaware were ready. So did the news media and political spectators.
Everyone who gathered Tuesday at a small airport in Georgetown, Delaware, near President Joe Biden’s home, waited for a planeload of migrants to be flown in from San Antonio as part of Florida Governor Ron Ron’s program. DeSantis, to send a message about illegal immigration.
But by the end of Tuesday, no plane had arrived. Instead, it landed in Teterboro, New Jersey, just outside New York City, where Biden was in town for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.
There were no migrants on board the plane.
Earlier in the day, DeSantis stoked the coals of speculation by refusing to confirm or deny whether the plane would even take off — his administration later declined to say whether the plane that landed in New Jersey was part of its program to relocate migrants — in a deliberate effort to keep the issue alive, said a source familiar with the governor’s thinking who discussed plans anonymously to speak candidly.
“He didn’t tell anyone and purposely left people in the dark. So technically the media, the Democrats, were disturbed anyone who decided to listen on Twitter instead of waiting for confirmation from the governor’s office,” the source said. . That’s what the governor said.”
Last week, DeSantis chartered two planes carrying about 50 migrants from the same city, San Antonio, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, a tactic first used by the Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has sent thousands of migrants to New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC, liberal strongholds that label themselves as “sanctuary cities” for migrants.
Tuesday’s “Waiting for Godot”-esque spectacle highlighted the intractable politics surrounding immigration, as well as DeSantis’ talent for making headlines and positioning himself to challenge Biden in 2024. While Abbott was the first GOP governor to send migrants to so-called sanctuary cities and states, DeSantis has gotten a lot more attention for his new program — even though the migrants who landed in Martha’s Vineyard boarded the planes in the state. Abbott.
“If you believe in open borders, then it is the sanctuary jurisdictions that should bear the brunt of the open borders,” DeSantis told reporters in Florida earlier Tuesday.
Even Biden made a lame joke about speculation about the possible flight to Delaware.
“He should come to visit. We have a beautiful coastline,” Biden said of DeSantis when asked if a group of migrants would disembark from a plane near his home.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused DeSantis of not wanting a workable, two-pronged solution to immigration. She said the White House was willing to help Delaware.
“Our warning did not come from the DeSantis administration because its sole purpose, as he has made it very clear, is to create chaos and use immigrants fleeing communism as political pawns,” she said. “So it’s about making political theater for him. It’s not about finding a solution.”
A spokeswoman for Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Biden ally, said his office was aware of the potential flight and ready to take on the challenge.
Delaware government officials said they had not received any form of communication from Florida or Texas governors. An aide to Carney hung out Tuesday at Georgetown’s Delaware Coastal Airport, brushing up a public flight-tracking website and telling reporters she had no more information or knowledge about the events than had been reported.
Jill Fredel, a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, said community partners had stepped forward to help organize migrant support networks and the state was “ready to meet their immediate needs.” Fredel added that Delaware was in the process of setting up a donation website to raise money for the migrants, but the website was not ready yet.
On Tuesday, the website turned out to be unnecessary.
Flight plans submitted Monday night indicated that the plane would leave San Antonio, with Delaware as its final destination, and the itinerary was quickly picked up on Twitter. But plans were changed on Tuesday, fully aware that this would lead to public confusion. Florida officials have not revealed details about the flight or said whether it was carrying migrants to keep both the story and the immigration issue central.
DeSantis had repeatedly pledged to send migrants to Biden’s home state and to Martha’s Vineyard, a vacation home island for prominent liberals such as former President Barack Obama. It’s also one of “perhaps the chicest jurisdictions in the world,” DeSantis said.
“Of course,” DeSantis said, “it’s sad that people from Martha’s Vineyard kicked them out the next day. They could have accommodated this. They chose not to, but what it shows is that if 50 was a burden to one of the richest places in our country, what about all those other communities that have been overrun by the hundreds or thousands?”
The migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were not deported; they were moved to a military base near Cape Cod. Many residents said they lacked the resources to house and care for the migrants, leading conservatives to accuse them of hypocrisy due to the number of empty houses on the island owned by millionaires and billionaires.
While DeSantis earned the praise of Republicans and immigration hardliners, the condemnation by immigrant and Democrat advocates was just as enduring.
Florida Democrats have called for an investigation into DeSantis’ decision to take in migrants found in San Antonio and fly them to other states because Florida’s budget says state money should be spent on “unauthorized aliens” that are found “in this state”. not Texas or elsewhere. Florida Republicans, who control the legislature, have ignored calls to launch an investigation.
In San Antonio, the Democratic Sheriff of Bexar County promised to launch an investigation because, he said, the migrants were misled by Florida vendors, who were accused of making false promises about food, housing and monetary assistance in Massachusetts, where such benefits were not granted. waiting.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based group representing 30 of the migrants, has asked Massachusetts state and federal authorities to conduct an investigation as well. The legal aid group noted that the migrants were handed a two-page brochure purporting to promise benefits to refugees — although most of the people were or are asylum seekers from Venezuela who would not qualify as refugees for years.
Florida officials say information in brochure was word-for-word of the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, but the office’s chief of staff, Falah Hashem, said of the brochure itself, “This is not ours.”
Another law firm representing some migrants sued DeSantis in Boston on Tuesday for fraud and abuse. The DeSantis administration responded by issuing a copy of a consent form stating that the migrants had signed a waiver of “all liability arising out of or in any way related to any injuries and damages that may arise” from the relocation to Massachusetts. .
DeSantis has repeatedly said that Florida’s relocation program is humane. He and his administration said the migrants who flew in from Texas went voluntarily and were found homeless and hungry, but that they were fed and housed by Florida taxpayers for at least a day before boarding the plane to Martha’s Vineyard.
At the airport in Delaware, the political drama drew a flood of media and a few Republican voters who came to support DeSantis and criticize Biden and Democrats.
“If you say you’re a refuge, don’t complain. Biden’s house isn’t that far from here. We should park a few on his street,” said Kenneth Cook, 54, a Delaware resident who voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.
“I don’t like all this talk that it’s immoral,” he said. “I thought we were all in this together. Share in the pain—whether you’re president, God, or someone else.”
Marc Caputo reported from Florida and Lauren Egan reported from Delaware.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com