Reckless $12M Florida ‘relocation program’ endangers immigrant families, misuses federal funds

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington (September 16, 2022) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today led his colleagues Representatives Bill Keating (MA-09), Lori Trahan (MA-03), Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Seth Moulton (MA-06) and Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) urging OIG to review the State of Florida’s apparent misuse of federal pandemic relief funds from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF), created under the American Rescue Plan Act, to relocate vulnerable immigrants from Florida to other states across the country. According to the Florida statute at issue, the ‘relocation program’ was founded using interest earnings associated with COVID-19 relief funding.

On Wednesday, 50 immigrants and asylum seekers that first arrived in Texas were flown on planes charted by the State of Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts without any notice provided to local, state, or federal officials to ensure basic needs were secured for those who arrived. Reports suggest the men, women, and children who were flown Wednesday to Martha’s Vineyard were told they would arrive in Boston.

“According to reports, Florida has used federal funds intended to help communities recover from the coronavirus pandemic for an inhumane program to transport newly arrived immigrants,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe this program misuses federal COVID-19 relief funds and violates federal law.”

“We request that you investigate Florida and take all necessary action — including potentially rescinding any misused funds — to stop this abuse of coronavirus relief programs,” the lawmakers continued. “States should not be permitted to use COVID-19 relief funds for any parochial interest unrelated to the pandemic, particularly for naked political conduct that imposes severe and unjust harms on disadvantaged groups of individuals.”

The office of Senator Markey has been in contact with federal officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS); state and local officials on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, including State Representative Dylan Fernandes, State Senator Julian Cyr, and Dukes County Sheriff Bob Ogden; state officials with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; and local non-profit organizations, such as the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and the Venezuelan Association of Massachusetts, to ensure that the immigrants and asylum seekers who most recently arrived at Joint Base Cape Cod this afternoon are met with the continued care and offer of services they received on Martha’s Vineyard.

Senator Markey has long been an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, despite repeated obstruction from Republicans in Congress, who have refused legislative efforts that would improve immigration and refugee admissions processes. In April 2021, Senator Markey and Representatives Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) and Joe Neguse (CO-02) re-introduced their Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement (GRACE) Act. The GRACE Act would strengthen existing federal law to prevent any President from setting an annual Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions at a level below 125,000. In February 2021, Senators Markey and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Representatives Grace Meng (NY-06), Jesús Chuy García (IL-04), and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) re-introduced the New Deal for New Americans Act, legislation that improves upon the coordination of federal, state, and local governments to support the social, economic, and civic integration of immigrants and refugees.