DeSantis relaunches migrant flight program with 3 new providers 2023

Less than a year after sending 49 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Gov. Ron DeSantis has chosen three corporations to carry out his enlarged, multi-million dollar initiative to transfer migrants nationwide.

State documents suggest the program, which may begin as soon as contracts are signed, will involve an undisclosed number of migrants and extend through June 30, 2025 unless a contract is cancelled. Records don’t show program start date. In coming weeks, DeSantis will run for president.

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management hasn’t provided contracts. According to Monday’s “notice of intent to award” records, DeSantis’ public safety czar selected Vertol Systems Company, ARS Global Emergency Management, and GardaWorld Federal Services, an armored truck company that has been investigated for safety violations, to fly migrants last year. Tuesday’s vendor selection was originally reported by USA Today Network-Florida.

The governor’s use of public money to criticize President Joe Biden’s immigration policy continues with vendor selection. Critics termed the Martha’s Vineyard flights political. After being sued in state and federal court, the governor had to cease the program until legislators changed the state statute to allow him additional power.

The Biden administration confronts a flood of migrants at the Texas-Mexico border after a COVID-19 policy expired this week. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will get 1,500 troops from the Biden administration on the southwest border.

DeSantis, who dispatched dozens of state law enforcement agents to support Texas cops at the border in 2021, has not announced if he will do so again. “Stay tuned,” his office informed the Times/Herald on Tuesday.

His office indicated in an email that they will discuss the border problem soon.

After January’s migrant surge along Florida’s coastline, the governor declared a state of emergency and relaunched the program. Alecia Collins, Division of Emergency Management spokesman, said the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program had “selected multiple vendors based on their capabilities to carry out the program as outlined in statute”.

The state has not revealed the voluntary migrants’ locations or destinations since the contracts have not been released. The state required the companies to provide air and ground transportation, do “research, identification and planning,” locate, identify, vet, and verify migrants eligible for transport, ensure “informed voluntary consent before relocation,” and manage program records and documents.

One vendor questioned about the “drastic cost differences” of flying “migrants from Florida to California, Florida to New York, or Florida to Georgia” in the state’s contracts website’s Q&A area.

In another inquiry, one vendor projected it could transport 40 to 50 migrants a week, or 2,200 in a year. The state said the number of people carried will depend on “ground conditions.”

The state proposed that merchants might organize and offer social services at the location.

The state said it would not transfer migrant children. It also stated traders would not have to fly migrants back to Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

Program History

The governor’s administration and Larry Keefe, the “public safety czar,” handled last September’s covert flights to Martha’s Vineyard differently. In February, legislators moved the migrant relocation program from the Florida Department of Transportation to the Division of Emergency Management Services after the state was sued over its Martha’s Vineyard flights.

Kevin Guthrie, head of the Division of Emergency Management Services, promised legislators a transparent approach that would avoid the mistakes that drew media attention during the previous operation.

In February, Guthrie’s agency published a timeframe for bids and sought contractors to offer migrants with meals, accommodation, transportation, security, hygiene goods, and help coordinating social services at their destination.

specify procurement records specify that the contractor must ensure its workers, agents, and subcontractors follow all local, state, and federal laws during the contract.

The Miami Herald and other news organizations uncovered public records and court documents showing that Keefe awarded the no-bid Florida Department of Transportation contract to Vertol, whose CEO, James Montgomerie, was his former legal client. Keefe helped his old client secure the contract by using a secret email address with the pseudonym “Clarice Starling” from the Hannibal Lecter movies.

Keefe coordinated Martha’s Vineyard flights and prepared portions of Vertol’s winning bid.

New merchants join

The revised program will include three times as many vendors, including Vertol.

“Family-owned company focused on providing clients order over chaos in emergencies before they happen” is ARS Global Emergency Management. Texas-based corporation has Miami operations. Joe Gagliano is president.

On its website, Washington, D.C.-based GardaWorld Federal Services states it is “focused on delivering best in class security, medical, logistics, and associated support services to U.S. federal, state and local government customs, as well as commercial clients.”

In 2020, the Tampa Bay Times reported the company’s armored trucks “lacked reliable brakes, seat belts or even seats” due to low maintenance.

“It gave drivers barely any training, pressured them to work at a frantic pace and let some keep driving as they crashed again and again,” the Times wrote. “Armored trucks have hurtled out of control in communities across America—swerving into traffic, plunging into ditches, and smashing into cars.”

The state has not disclosed firm payments.

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