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Authorities investigate after 16 migrants dropped off at Diocese of Sacramento

According to religious group Sacramento ACT, the group of migrants entered the U.S. in El Paso from Venezuela and Colombia.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Department of Justice is investigating how a group of 16 Venezuelan and Colombian migrants were dropped off in the front office of the Diocese of Sacramento, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday.

According to Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT), the group of migrants originated in El Paso where they were allegedly approached by a private contractor saying that they would be provided with jobs, free support and help getting into a migrant center.

Attorney General Rob Bonta says while the case is still under investigation, "we can confirm these individuals were in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida."

Newsom says the migrants were then flown on a private chartered jet to Sacramento and dropped off in the front office of the Diocese of Sacramento Friday. 

According to Sacramento religious leaders, the migrants did not know where they were and only had a backpack's worth of belongings. 

The migrants were reportedly processed upon entry into the United States and have court appearances pending.

"Within each of the 16 migrants transported to Sacramento on Friday we recognize the humble presence of Jesus, and we hear His call to stand by them," Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said in a statement. "The urgency to respond was heard by Catholics and people of good will. We are thankful to our partner organizations who took up the holy work of hospitality, dedicating their time and resources to ensure that every migrant did not feel alone and abandoned."

In a statement Saturday, Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg likened the drop-off to human trafficking.

"Whoever is behind this must answer the following: Is there anything more cruel than using scared human beings to score cheap political points? Sacramento represents the best of American values,"  the statement said. "We always welcome 'the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses,' and we always will."

Newsom weighed in on the situation in a statement Saturday saying that he and Bonta met with the migrants.

"We are working closely with the Mayor’s office, along with local and nonprofit partners to ensure the people who have arrived are treated with respect and dignity, and get to their intended destination as they pursue their immigration cases," Newsom said in a statement. 

According to Newsom, the California Department of Justice is investigating the circumstances surrounding who paid for the group's travel and whether any criminal laws were violated, including kidnapping.

"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," said Bonta in a statement. 

Sacramento ACT says that the organization has received an outpouring of support for the migrants. They are asking for people to contribute financially through their website or by offering transportation to appointments through a sign-up sheet

Watch more from ABC10: Title 42 Ends: California southern border update - May 11, 2023

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