Reports that a plane carrying immigrants was bound for President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware sparked chaos in three states on Tuesday and drew public condemnation from the White House.
Mobilize state officials. Community groups stood ready to help. Journalists and camera crews monitored the airports.
But the plane — and the migrants — never showed up.
“We have no reports of anyone reaching this point,” Jill Friedel of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services said after officials waited hours for the plane to arrive at the Delaware coastal airport in Sussex County.
The confusing drama was the latest chapter in an ongoing feud between Biden and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that has grabbed headlines and highlighted Biden’s border policies.
DeSantis, a Republican considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, has threatened to send migrants captured at the border to “judicial authorities” across the country.
Last week, he followed up on that threat and flew 48 Venezuelans from San Antonio Airport to Martha’s Vineyard on two private planes. Upon their arrival, Venezuelan immigrants told reporters that they had been lured by individuals who falsely promised them jobs and places to stay without rent. They filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials on Tuesday seeking unspecified damages.
On Monday evening, reports emerged that another plane was scheduled to leave Texas on Tuesday and then head to the Delaware coastal airport, about 20 miles west of Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach. Flight plans submitted late Monday indicated that the plane would fly from San Antonio to Delaware, with a short layover in Crestview, Florida.
But what actually happened remains a mystery.
The plane did not leave Texas until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, but Delaware Governor Emily David Hirschman’s spokeswoman said the governor’s office was aware of the reports and was preparing for the possible arrival.
Reporters and photographers from the USA TODAY Network searched for signs of the plane in Texas and Florida. No plane took off. No plane landed.
Officials later said no plane was expected.
In Ocaloosa County, Florida, where the plane was due to make a brief layover, officials said they were not receiving passenger data on flights like those said to be bound for Delaware. County spokeswoman April Sarver said the county is not even allowed to request such documents.
Much of what officials are learning, she said, comes from the public, who may be using apps to track flights coming from Texas or just passing rumors back and forth on social media.
“We’ve heard the rumors too, but we won’t get anything official,” Sarver said. “I’m sure I’d like Governor DeSantis to call me and raise my head.”
Inhumane acts: Massachusetts seeks human trafficking investigation targeting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over immigrants
At the White House, Press Secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration was aware of reports that a plane was en route to Delaware. She said the White House has been in “close contact” with Delaware officials, but has not been in contact with DeSantis or his administration.
“Our heads didn’t come from Governor DeSantis because his only goal, as he really explained, was to create chaos and to use immigrants fleeing communism as political pawns,” said Jean-Pierre. So it is about creating a political theater for it. It’s not about reaching a solution.”
Biden was later asked about reports that DeSantis was sending immigrants to Delaware, telling reporters, “He should come visit us. We have a nice beach.”
Meanwhile, DeSantis declined to confirm to reporters in Florida whether he had ordered more immigrants from Texas to be sent to Delaware. But he defended his plan to steer immigrants detained at the border away from Florida and send them to “sanctuary authorities” across the country.
He also maintained the drumbeat of fierce criticism of Biden’s border security policies.
In Bradenton, DeSantis questioned why those who denounced his immigration plan had not expressed their anger at Biden for allowing dozens of immigrants to die last June in and around a tractor trailer in San Antonio. “I haven’t heard any anger about that,” he said.
“I don’t hear outcry about criminal aliens running through people and victimizing… all over the country, but you have 50 people who ended up on Martha’s Vineyard, and then they get really upset,” DeSantis said.
He said Biden’s border security policies “are doing serious damage to our country,” and “no one can deny that there is a crisis.”
DeSantis said his plan crystallized last year when he made a trip to the US-Mexico border to help Texas Governor Greg Abbott deal with the border crisis.
US Customs and Border Protection officials reported Monday that the number of arrests of illegal immigrants along the southwest border – for the first time – has exceeded 2 million in the current fiscal year, which ends at the end of the month.
“Solutions, not theater”: Representative Henry Cuellar calls for more resources for immigrants
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS
Emily Little of the Delaware News Journal reported this story in Delaware and Tom McLaughlin of the Pensacola News Journal in Florida.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Sending immigrants to Biden’s Delaware home was Governor DeSantis’ next move
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