MIAMI (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials are being sued in federal court by immigrant rights groups who challenge the constitutionality of the state's migrant relocation program.

The suit was filed Thursday by three groups — Florida Immigrant Coalition, Americans for Immigrant Justice and Hope Community Center — against DeSantis and state Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Harvard Law School professor Ron Sullivan, one of the attorneys on the case, said governors cannot independently decide to bring immigrants across state lines.

“The problem with what Florida did is that you can't have 50 different cooks in the kitchen directing migrants here and there and everywhere,” Sullivan told GBH News. “It would be chaotic and it would be bad for the country. This is why states are preempted from engaging in the sorts of actions that Gov. DeSantis did.”

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature approved a $12 million budget item to relocate people in the U.S. illegally from Florida to another location. The money came from interest earned from federal funds given to Florida under the American Rescue Plan.

The lawsuit claims that the appropriation creates an incoherent definition of “unauthorized alien” that is inconsistent with federal immigration laws. The immigrant rights groups claim that the ill-defined designation may include people whose presence in the country and Florida is authorized by the federal government, but who now risk harassment for merely wishing to either enter or stay in Florida.

But the DeSantis administration pushed back Friday, saying that the program was lawful.

“The relocation program was funded by interest from federal COVID dollars and lawfully executed under an appropriation of the Florida state legislature (that, incidentally, had bipartisan support),” Taryn Fenske, communications director for DeSantis’ office, told GBH News. “We will continue to defend the state’s actions against these politically motivated, unsound lawsuits.”

Sullivan argued the program also violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause by unfairly targeting people from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Sullivan and lawyers from other organization, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, are representing immigrant advocacy organizations on the ground in Florida. The lawyers argue the groups have been harmed trying to, in Sullivan’s words, “clean up” in the relocation program’s wake.

“These organizations do great work,” he said. “They represent thousands and thousands of migrants who come into the country. And these organizations have been severely harmed, which means that they're unable to provide their traditional services to migrants because of the chaos that Gov. DeSantis has caused with this stunt.”

Next, Florida will have to respond in court — either asking the judge to throw out the case or respond to the substance of the suit.

In September, Florida officials arranged flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, that carried 49 mostly Venezuelan migrants to the island where former President Barack Obama owns a home. Local officials weren’t told in advance that the migrants were coming.

DeSantis, a Republican, claimed responsibility for the flights as part of a campaign to focus attention on what he has called the Biden administration’s failed border policies. He was joining Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the tactic of sending migrants to Democratic strongholds without advance warning.

The Martha’s Vineyard flight has also spawned lawsuits accusing Florida of lying to the migrants in San Antonio to get them to agree to the flights.

A spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Transportation told GBH News it does not comment on pending litigation.

Hannah Reale reported from Boston.