Washington (September 28, 2022) – In the wake of a cruel stunt by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to lure nearly 50 asylum seekers onto planes chartered by the State of Florida and flying from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today led his colleagues Representatives Bill Keating (MA-09), Lori Trahan (MA-03), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), and Seth Moulton (MA-06) in a letter urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to use its authority to ensure that asylum seekers and other migrants cannot be transported under false pretenses.
According to a civil suit filed on September 20th, the men, women, and children who were flown on September 14th to Martha’s Vineyard were lured by the “false promises and false representations” that, if they boarded the flights to other states, they would be transported to Boston where they would receive “employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival.” The flights were paid for through the State of Florida’s $12 million, taxpayer-funded “relocation program.”
According to DOT’s Charter-Broker Rule – which the Trump administration issued in 2018 with the intent of bolstering consumer protections for individuals chartering private planes – persons or entities that hold out or arrange charter air transportation, known as “charter brokers,” are prohibited from misrepresenting “the time of departure or arrival, points served, route to be flown, stops to be made, or total trip-time from point of departure to destination.”
In their letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the lawmakers write: “The Department should use all tools within its authority — including the Charter-Broker Rule — to ensure that migrants are not transported under false pretenses as part of a competition among wannabe Trump acolytes to claim the mantle of cruelest governor in the United States. Charter brokers and air carriers should not assist states like Florida in relocating migrants with false promises about their ultimate destination.”
Specifically, in their letter, the Senators outline that Vertol Systems Company, Inc. appears to have signed a $1.6 million contract with the State of Florida to relocate the asylum seekers, and then appears to have hired Ultimate Jet Charters to operate the flights. Vertol likely constituted a charter-broker subject to DOT rules in the transaction. Similarly, individuals and potentially even the State of Florida and its officers may also qualify as charter brokers.
Earlier this month, Senator Markey and members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation urged the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General to review the State of Florida’s apparent misuse of federal pandemic relief funds from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, created under the American Rescue Plan Act, to relocate the asylum seekers 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.