The small Delaware town of Rehoboth Beach, where President Joe Biden has a vacation home, scrambled Tuesday to prepare for the expected arrival of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ next round of expensive migrant flights—but the day only ended with more confusion in the Diamond State.
Instead, confusion swirled as the chartered plane that was scheduled to leave Texas on Tuesday morning, filled with migrants, departed hours late and bound for a different city—Nashville, Tennessee—with no passengers on board.
Delaware officials had sprung into action on Monday night after word got out that the same plane DeSantis used to fly migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week was listed on a public schedule to fly to Delaware, via Florida, on Tuesday morning. There was also a $950,000 payment made by Florida to Vertol Systems Company Inc, the same charter company that flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
Once word spread, however, DeSantis lost the element of surprise that marked his Martha’s Vineyard stunt. This time, city, state and federal officials immediately began preparing for a possible arrival.
“We are aware of the situation and are working with state and local partners to compassionately address this situation and take care of the migrants who may arrive,” a spokesperson for Rehoboth Beach, a city of 1,108 people, said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Tuesday morning.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told CNN on Tuesday that he spent much of Monday night on the phone, coordinating with community leaders “to make sure that we provide an appropriate, welcoming and supportive reception in Delaware.”
The White House also indicated that federal agencies had reached out to coordinate with Delaware Gov. John Carney and service providers in a bid to prevent a repeat of the Martha’s Vineyard episode.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday that while the administration did have advance notice of the plane’s supposed arrival, it did not come from the man who apparently coordinated it.
“Our heads up did not come from Governor DeSantis because his only goal, as he’s made it really quite clear, is to create chaos,” Jean-Pierre said. “It’s about creating political theater for him. It’s not about getting to a solution.”
Public flight plans initially showed that the plane used to whisk migrants to Massachusetts was set to embark on a similar flight path Tuesday, departing from Texas, with a stopover in the Florida Panhandle before arriving in Georgetown—the closest airport to Rehoboth Beach, 19 miles away—at 1:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.
The flight was then delayed for unknown reasons before its route changed entirely. It departed for Nashville around 2:30 p.m. ET, where it reportedly landed without a single migrant on board 90 minutes later.
Georgetown Mayor Bill West confirmed to The Daily Beast late Tuesday that state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, a Republican, told him they should no longer expect a migrant flight that day.
Pettyjohn, who told The Daily Beast he spent Tuesday tracking the suspected flight on an app, said state officials were never notified about the plane ahead of time, nor were they alerted when the expected operation was called off Tuesday.
“We kept, kept an eye on it throughout the day,” he said. “The scheduled departure time from Texas came and went and eventually the flight plan disappeared and it was no longer showing as coming to Georgetown anymore.”
West had told The Daily Beast that nonprofits began calling him around 10 p.m. Monday, and the city quickly arranged housing for an expected 30 to 33 migrants.
He said he was hoping the aircraft wasn’t too big because the runway at Delaware Coastal Airport, about 200 feet outside the town line, can’t accommodate big jetliners. But the city was nevertheless “more than proud to take care of them.”
“It’s a situation that I wish wasn’t occurring, but we have to deal with it as it’s provided to us,” he said. “In the great state of Delaware, government works.”
The advance notice allowed for some coordination by non-profit organizations and church groups, said Mike Brickner, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware.
“Whether they arrive today, tomorrow, or next week, there is a statewide, coordinated effort to ensure everyone who might be sent to Delaware as a result of these tactics is treated with dignity and respect—and will get the services they need,” said Brickner. “What these politicians did not count on is the generous and welcoming spirit of Delawareans, who will come together to care for these victims of a craven political stunt.”
That coordinated effort, Brickner said, had largely been between local groups and state leaders, but he welcomed additional resources from the Biden administration. The primary concerns would be shelter and legal assistance, he said.
A spokesperson for Gov. Carney’s office said the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and Delaware Department Health and Human Services was working with community organizations “to make sure that migrants who arrive here have the support that they need.”
But Jill Fredel, a Delaware DHS spokesperson, told reporters on the tarmac in Georgetown that the specifics of that support have not yet been ironed out because “no one has arrived yet.”
Biden, for his part, welcomed at least one more person to visit his home state, telling reporters at the White House on Tuesday that DeSantis himself should come to Delaware.
“He should come visit,” Biden said. “We have a beautiful shoreline.”
DeSantis has threatened to continue his stunts despite a sheriff in Texas announcing Monday that his office planned to open a criminal investigation into whether the DeSantis administration broke the law with his first stunt. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the migrants involved were “lured under false pretenses” to stay at a hotel for a couple of days, shuttled to a plane, flown to Florida, and eventually transported to Martha’s Vineyard, where they had been promised work, aid, and cash—but instead arrived to chaos.
Tuesday’s episode was expected to be the latest attempt by DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to spend big bucks to shuttle newly arrived migrants to liberal-leaning cities far from the southern border. On Friday, Abbott had buses of migrants dropped at the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C.
DeSantis’ office did not return multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast on Tuesday morning. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, however, he said he could not confirm that a flight was organized by him to land in Delaware.
Vertol Systems Company Inc. operates as Ultimate Air Shuttle with the FAA, but primarily uses the name Ultimate Jetcharters. The company could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
—with additional reporting by Zachary Petrizzo
The Daily Beast