More than a dozen migrants were dropped off on the doorstep of a California church after being transported to the state via private plane, according to state officials.
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The migrants were dropped off at the Diocese of Sacramento on Saturday "with no prior arrangement or care in place" and in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.
The group had been transported from Texas to New Mexico before being flown by private chartered jet to Sacramento, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
Officials are evaluating potential civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of "these vulnerable immigrants," Bonta said, comparing the move to "state-sanctioned kidnapping."
The California Department of Justice is investigating the circumstances around who paid for the group’s travel and whether the individuals orchestrating this trip misled anyone with false promises or have violated any criminal laws, including kidnapping, Newsom said.
The group of migrants was allegedly approached by a private contractor in El Paso, Texas, who told them they would be provided with jobs, free support and help getting into a migrant center, ABC Sacramento affiliate KXTV reported, citing the Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT).
The 16 migrants did not know where they were and only had a backpack's worth of belongings, Diocese of Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said in a statement.
"While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting," Bonta said. "We are a nation built by immigrants and we must condemn the cruelty and hateful rhetoric of those, whether they are state leaders or private parties, who refuse to recognize humanity and who turn their backs on extending dignity and care to fellow human beings."
Newsom and Bonta met with the group of migrants on Saturday and are working with the office of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and local and nonprofit partners to ensure the migrants are treated with respect and dignity and get to their intended destination as they pursue their immigration cases, officials said.
The city is welcoming the migrants with open arms, Steinberg said in a statement, accusing those who transported the migrants of "using scared human beings to score cheap political points."
"California and the Sacramento community will welcome these individuals with open arms and provide them with the respect, compassion, and care they will need after such a harrowing experience," Bonta said.