Venezuelan migrants flown to California from Texas not part of GOP operation, activists say

Two groups of Venezuelan migrants flown separately to Sacramento last week were sent by a Texas agency directing the travelers to a nonexistent immigration check-in location, an advocacy group told The Times on Wednesday.

While the eight men, who crossed the border in Laredo, Texas, did not know why they were traveling to California, the move was not part of efforts by Republican governors in Texas and Florida to ship migrants to liberal cities and states, according to Autumn Gonzalez, a volunteer with NorCal Resist.

Instead, a Texas shelter working with the newly arrived migrants appears to have given them airfare to Sacramento because their immigration paperwork indicated a check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in that city, Gonzalez said.

The paperwork also directed the men, who landed Sept. 15 in separate groups, to what they were told would be a shelter for temporary lodging, Gonzalez said, but the address was a closed office building in downtown Sacramento.

The migrants’ unexpected arrival immediately sparked concerns that they were targeted by operatives of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who have been transporting immigrants out of their states.

A group of migrants has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against DeSantis, claiming Venezuelans who flew to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., were lured onto the planes under false pretenses. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has joined other Democratic governors in calling on the Department of Justice to look into the incident.

Gonzalez, whose group provides services to migrants and advocates for immigrant rights, said that although the men who arrived in Sacramento were not part of a relocation effort, advocates remained concerned about the misdirection of their check-in.

“The part that is problematic is [Customs and Border Protection] putting the address of a nonexistent shelter on their documents as the place they needed to report to,” said Gonzalez, noting that none of the men had any contacts or resources in the city.

The men are declining to speak to the media, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez added that NorCal Resist and volunteers have been able to provide the migrants with a place to stay and groceries. Some of the group have already volunteered to move furniture for a Syrian refugee family. Another nonprofit group stepped in to organize a soccer game for the men.

Some are now considering settling in Sacramento, she said.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to questions about why immigrants would be given places to check in so far from their final destinations. The men who arrived in California intended to travel to New York, Florida or Utah.

Yet for years, attorneys have highlighted cases in which those seeking immigration were directed to report to far-off locations or given wrong addresses, which can be crucial for asylum seekers who must check in with ICE.

In one case documented by BuzzFeed News, a Honduran national had his physical address listed as “Facebook” by a Border Patrol officer. WNBC New York in August reported some immigrants were given bogus addresses to supposed shelters in New York, such as “111 unknown.” In two instances, an officer appeared to sign the paperwork with an emoji of a face with one eye closed and a tongue sticking out.

Marisa Limón Garza, executive director with Las Americas, an El Paso-based nonprofit immigration advocacy group, said the recent actions by Abbott and DeSantis have strengthened partnerships in communities willing to help immigrants.

California and Boston helped the displaced Venezuelans, which sidestepped the political theater that elected officials were trying to drum up, she said.

Garza said the support these immigrants have found reminds her of how Ukrainian refugees were welcomed by neighboring countries when the Russian invasion began.

“That’s how we operate every day at the southern border,” Garza said. “I have no doubt in my mind that there are similar people in Sacramento and in Chicago. All these areas are doing the same thing of really showing that a person can be welcomed even though they maybe did not get full information when they were on this trip.”

El Paso is a perpetual waypoint for migrants entering the U.S., she said. In previous years, migrants from other Central and South American countries typically spent a few days in the city before connecting with relatives who could sponsor them to stay in the country legally. But that’s not the case for many Venezuelans, who typically don’t have connections in the U.S.

Garza said this disparity is creating a backlog and highlights the glaring problems facing the broader immigration system.

She also said cities and states that take in the immigrants will need federal assistance if asked to continue their humanitarian aid.

“That goes back to the [Biden] administration and to Congress because the good people of Sacramento are doing what I imagine to be a tremendous amount of work and are happy to do it,” Garza said. “They’re going to need support from the federal government to figure out solutions that are going to make sense for the community longer term.”