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How does Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis benefit by putting migrants on a plane?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What drove Florida's governor to use taxpayer money to move migrants around?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ron DeSantis drew lots of attention by arranging for his state to pay to transport people to Martha's Vineyard. The move was unusual in several ways. DeSantis wanted to highlight a flood of migrants but didn't seem to have enough in Florida to use as props. So he found some in Texas where Governor Greg Abbott is already doing this - moving migrants around for political capital. As we've reported, people from Venezuela and Colombia were lured onto a plane, lied to about their destination and left in an elite vacation spot where they now have shelter. In the end, we should note the number of immigrants in Florida was the same as before.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Allen has been following the governor. Greg, good morning.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why would he do this now?

ALLEN: Well, DeSantis is running for reelection as governor, and illegal immigration has really not been much of an issue in that race. This is a state with a lot of immigrants and a history of accommodating them. But he's also seen as maneuvering for the presidency in 2024. And this move is seen as enhancing his national political profile. One sign of that is that video of the migrants arriving in Martha's Vineyard was provided to and first shown on Fox News.

INSKEEP: There are a lot of politicians who said politics is storytelling. He's telling a story here. How does that particular story enhance his national profile, if at all?

ALLEN: Well, he's an outspoken Republican critic of most of President Biden's policies, including down at the southern border where migration is at record levels. DeSantis thinks Biden hasn't done enough to stem the flow of people coming over the border. He's talked for months about sending them to Delaware, Biden's home state. And he's also talked about sending them to Martha's Vineyard, which he sees as a bastion for liberal elites, as he calls them.

INSKEEP: So he's a member of the elite. How's he talking about the flights?

ALLEN: Well, yesterday he took credit for those flights and defended them, saying that they're intended to make sure that migrants coming over the southern border don't head to Florida.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: Our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state, and it's better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

ALLEN: That was at a news conference. You can see, he always has a lot of happy supporters there who are cheering him for all kinds of things. He took just a few questions about the flights, didn't provide any new details. At his request this year, Republican lawmakers set up a $12 million fund to transport unauthorized migrants out of Florida. There's no word if that fund allows for transporting them out of Texas. But there's also been a suggestion by some that this may run afoul with federal anti-trafficking laws. California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida's top Democrat Nikki Fried are among those who are asking the Justice Department to investigate if that's the case.

INSKEEP: Again, just to be very clear, 12 million to move migrants out of Florida - how many of the migrants had previously been in Florida?

ALLEN: Well, those - these were all from Texas. They were taken from a shelter in San Antonio.

INSKEEP: OK. Is there an argument that this would be bad timing at all for DeSantis to make this move?

ALLEN: Well, Democrats would like to think so. You know, he is running for governor. Yesterday, his Democratic opponent in the race, former Governor Charlie Crist, called him out on the flights, calling them vile and disgusting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLIE CRIST: When you are this inhumane in how you treat human beings, you're not qualified to be governor of anything. And it's just - it's amazing to me what he's willing to do for sheer political gain.

ALLEN: You know, but DeSantis is clearly feeling confident about his gubernatorial reelection campaign. He has lots of money - more than $130 million in the bank - and is very popular with Republicans.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Allen, thanks so much.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.