“Fine,” Utmeier texted. “You have my full support. Call anytime.”
“Copy. Thanks,” Keefe responded.
On the day of his first flight from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Keefe texted Usmeier: “Get up” and “should be in touch again around 1100 ET.”
The documents provide the clearest picture yet of the extent to which DeSantis’ senior officials were involved in flight planning and execution. It included nearly 150 pages of material, such as text messages, photos of immigrants boarding private jets and a partially redacted DHS waiver signed by immigrants on the flight. Individual migrants’ names are blacked out in exemption documents, but most list Venezuela as their country of origin.
DeSantis has supported the plan for nearly a year and persuaded the Republican-led legislature to give him an initial $12 million in funding for the overall effort to transport immigrants.
DeSantis’ flight has drawn ire from Democrats, who have accused DeSantis of human trafficking and using vulnerable asylum seekers as political props. Republicans, however, praised DeSantis, saying he drew attention to the dramatic increase in immigration at the southern border.
The DeSantis administration is facing multiple lawsuits over the program, including a lawsuit filed last Monday by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, alleging that DeSantis failed to release records related to the flight. Regulators at the U.S. Treasury Department are investigating whether the Florida governor improperly used funds linked to federal Covid-19 relief funds to pay for flights, while a Texas sheriff is investigating whether the flights violated any laws.
DeSantis spokesman Brian Griffin said Saturday that the release of the documents has nothing to do with the Florida Government Accountability Center lawsuit, but is part of an “ongoing request for records.” He did not answer questions about other aspects of the flight or the record itself.
Michael Barfield, director of public access at the Florida Center for Government Accountability, called the release “piecemeal.”
“The Governor’s Office continues to have a blast on the right of Florida citizens to know what their government is doing,” he said in a statement. “These records should be produced within a day or two of the original request. Instead, After 25 days, we continued to get piecemeal releases.”
Text messages between Keefe and Utmeier in September. 5 also indicated that Texas officials were aware of Florida’s plans and knew the flight was coming.
“TX knows about Dash, FYI,” Uthmeier wrote on Sept. 9. 5. “Don’t worry, sir.”
“Texas know and excel at Dash?” Keefe responded. “please confirm.”
“Call when it’s convenient,” Utmeier replied.
It was not immediately clear who or what “Dash” was, and no clarification questions were raised with DeSantis’ office.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said he was not involved in DeSantis’ flight from his state to Martha’s Vineyard. But his administration has transported thousands of migrants from the southern border to blue strongholds, including New York City and Chicago. Abbott also sent dozens of immigrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Texas sources suggesting that Texas was “aware” of some version of Florida’s plan.
While DeSantis performed only one shipment, his administration appears to be organizing another immigration flight on Sept. 20, this time to President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware, according to the Miami Herald first reported.
Records at the time showed that flights operated by the same provider as the Martha’s Vineyard flight were heading to Nashville, New Jersey, prompting immigrant groups in those cities to rush to the airport to provide whatever services the migrants might need. Flight records at the time showed a flight to Delaware operated by the same supplier as the Martha’s Vineyard flight.
However, that flight was canceled, leaving immigrants recruited for the flight stranded in Texas. The Miami Herald reported that a woman known as “Pella” showed up at a hotel in San Antonio to recruit them for a flight, and then abruptly informed them that the flight was canceled. The New York Times identified “Perla” as Perla Huerta, a veteran who served two decades in the U.S. Army.
“Perla” also appears in screenshots of What’s App messages sent to Keefe, which are included in the latest release of the treasure trove of documents.
“They will hate me today, but no one will give them that chance,” one message, written in Spanish, wrote in response to a message that directly quoted “Perla.”
In another message, at least one immigrant appeared to be thankful for participating in the program, saying they felt like they had been placed in a “golden bed.”
Keefe was hired by DeSantis in September. Serving as Florida’s first-ever public safety czar in 2021, DeSantis immediately framed the position as focusing on illegal immigration.
Keefe was previously appointed partner of an Okaloosa County law firm, one of the largest in the region, and has represented Vertol Systems on numerous occasions, which the DeSantis administration has so far paid in connection with the immigrant flight program. of $1.5 million.
Gary Fineout contributed to this story.