By Ted Hesson and Trevor Hunnicutt
GEORGETOWN, Del. (Reuters) -Local government officials, advocates and reporters swarmed a small coastal airport near President Joe Biden's vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Tuesday in anticipation of a possible flight carrying migrants from Texas.
Flight tracking websites showed a scheduled flight set to leave San Antonio, Texas, heading to Georgetown, Delaware, on Tuesday chartered by the same company that was used by Florida's Republican governor Ron DeSantis to send migrants to the wealthy island of Martha's Vineyard last week.
But later in the day, the flight trackers showed the plane no longer going to San Antonio or Georgetown, and instead heading to Nashville. It was unclear what had caused the route change or if there were migrants on board.
DeSantis previously took credit for a pair of planes that dropped off nearly 50 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, on the island in Massachusetts with no warning and said he planned additional actions. But on Tuesday, he would not confirm any information about a possible flight to Delaware.
Asked at the White House about his reaction to the possibility of DeSantis sending migrants near his Delaware beach house, Biden - a Democrat - told reporters the Florida governor "should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline." The White House said it would work with state and local authorities to help migrants if they arrived, while condemning the incident as a "political stunt."
DeSantis, who is up for re-election in November and seen as a possible presidential contender in 2024, joined Republican governors from Texas and Arizona in sending migrants to Democratic-controlled cities, in an effort to criticize the Biden administration's handling of the U.S.-Mexico border where there have been a record number of crossings.
"I think it's opening people's eyes to the solution, which is let's have a secure border," DeSantis said in a press conference Tuesday.
Texas, which has sent more than 11,000 migrants to Washington D.C., New York City and Chicago since April, stepped up its campaign in recent days, dropping migrants off near the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington.
The scramble in Delaware came just a day after the county sheriff in San Antonio opened a criminal investigation into the flights to Martha's Vineyard. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said on Monday that 48 migrants were "lured under false pretenses" to the island for "a photo opp." Migrants said they were recruited on the streets of San Antonio by a woman named Perla and promised jobs and housing, but were given no indication they were headed to a small island.
Lawyers representing the migrants said on Tuesday they filed a class action lawsuit against Florida over the flights in a federal court in Massachusetts.
In the 7,000-person town in Georgetown on Tuesday, patrons at the airport restaurant weighed in on the Republican efforts to ship migrants around the country.
Wyatt Wiggins, a 40-year-old co-owner of a local company that rents construction equipment, said he supports former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, including the effort to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, but opposes flying migrants to send a political message.
"Using people as pawns to get a political point across is not a very good representation of our country," he said.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrea Shalal in Washington and Ted Hesson in Georgetown; Additional reporting by Jason Buch in Madison, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco, Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Aurora Ellis)