JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Jacksonville on Friday to make an announcement about something the News4JAX I-TEAM has been investigating for months: flights carrying migrants to our area.
The governor said dozens of flights that came through Jacksonville were carrying migrants, and the I-TEAM worked to obtain records about those flights. Documents show 78 charter flights came and went from Jacksonville International Airport over about six months, usually at night.
During a news conference at the airport Friday, the Head of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority talked about one of those flights that alerted them to the problem at the airport.
“We first learned of these flights in June of this year when an aircraft was parked in the middle of the night on the remote cargo apron,” JAA CEO Mark VanLoh said. “Our operations department had learned that the flight crews had already left for hotels at night, leaving a plane full of children with chaperones locked on board for 10 hours.”
News4JAX has reached out to the charter company for comment, but so far they have not responded.
DeSantis worked to stop the planes from landing and said at the news conference that none have touched down in the last six weeks.
The flights have been a rallying cry for DeSantis, who is proposing more changes to laws to crack down on people entering Florida and the United States illegally. If the state Legislature approves the proposals, the governor’s plan would give law enforcement and others more teeth in watching who is coming into the country, state and city on undocumented charter flights.
“We’re going to be proposing a series of legislative reforms that will help strengthen Florida’s hand in fighting back against the Biden border crisis and what we’ve seen happening for almost the last year in terms of what’s happening to our country,” DeSantis said.
The governor said they will go after the companies that own the charter planes and buses that carry the passengers and not allow them to do business with any state or local government agency in Florida.
He said they are also looking at better ways to verify those who are coming into the country to make sure they have entered legally. And he said any private entity involved in facilitating illegal migration into Florida would owe the state restitution for each person they either transported or harbored.
“Because this does cost -- when you have huge numbers of people -- that costs a lot of money for taxpayers in a variety of ways,” DeSantis said.
The governor is suing the Biden administration and said that lawsuit is still being addressed in the courts.
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams were among those at Friday’s news conference showing support for the governor’s proposals.
Curry highlighted a recent Jacksonville murder case involving a migrant that the governor’s office says it confirmed was on one of the flights. Curry said the man accused of killing a 46-year-old father of four in Jacksonville pretended to be 17 so he would be considered an unaccompanied minor and would not be sent back right away when he crossed the border. He was actually 24, Curry said.
“This tragic loss could have been prevented if our southern borders were more secure. While some may think this is a unique or extreme case, I’m not willing to take that chance,” Curry said. “I want to know how these individuals are being vetted and how they’re being screened. This is not about vilification it’s about verification.”
Williams said not having documented information about those coming into the area makes it difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs.
“It’s our job in law enforcement to keep communities safe, and that job is challenged when we have nothing more to work with than just the unknown,” Williams said. “While I have all the confidence in the world that the men and women of JSO will stay vigilant and their work to keep our community safe, I can’t deny I’ve got serious concerns for the fact that they have to carry out that work without all the information that’s necessary, not only to keep our community safe, but to keep themselves safe.”
Some others are voicing concerns about the governor’s plan on a crackdown.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said DeSantis’ proposed legislation is targeting immigrant communities across the state and is using kids as pawns to further his anti-immigrant agenda.