A group of Venezuelan migrants who were shuttled from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), who took credit for the latest Republican effort to transport migrants to Democratic-run areas, an action the lawsuit characterized as “extreme and outrageous, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
The lawsuit names DeSantis as the main defendant, along with Florida Transportation Secretary Jared Purdue and five yet-to-be-identified defendants, including a mysterious blonde woman from San Antonio, Texas, who identified herself as “Perla,” and allegedly misled some of the migrants who arrived on Martha’s Vineyard.
The lawsuit claims the migrants were transported to the wealthy Massachusetts holiday destination under false pretenses, and were told they would have access to housing, education, legal assistance and other resources upon their arrival.
Many of the plaintiffs were also told before boarding a plane that they were heading to either Boston or Washington, D.C., and only learned they were going to Martha’s Vineyard when already mid-air, according to the lawsuit.
After the plane arrived in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, the migrants were left “destitute and stranded” on the tarmac and were not provided with any of the assistance they were promised, the lawsuit alleges, leaving them “immensely vulnerable” and unable to reach the people who recruited them for the flights via phone.
The relocation interfered with federal immigration laws, violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights and caused “severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit says, adding that the migrants were “emotionally traumatized” after learning they had been transported thousands of miles from where they needed to continue with their federal immigration proceedings in Texas.
The lawsuit also alleged DeSantis and other defendants intentionally targeted individuals who were not white and who were born outside the United States.
The plaintiffs—a group of three migrants who boarded the flights—asked a federal judge in Massachusetts to recognize their case as a class-action suit on behalf of everybody who was transported across state lines by Florida officials, and to bar Florida from “inducing immigrants to travel across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation.”
DeSantis’ spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in a statement the migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard “on a voluntary basis” and argued the program “gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state,” sharing a consent form for the flights that called Massachusetts a “final destination.”
Roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants arrived on Martha’s Vineyard by chartered flights without prior notice, forcing local officials to scramble to provide them with resources. DeSantis took credit for the relocation, saying Florida is “not a sanctuary state, and we will gladly facilitate the transport of illegal immigrants to sanctuary jurisdictions.” It’s unclear why the Florida relocation program, which was funded through a $12 million appropriation in the state budget, targeted migrants in Texas. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) previously paid to bus immigrants in Texas to other locations like D.C. and New York City. Critics have derided this busing effort as an inhumane political stunt, but Republicans have cast it as a way of pushing back against a recent surge in unauthorized southern border crossings, which they have blamed on the Biden Administration’s immigration policies.
The lawsuit says some of the migrants were approached outside a shelter in San Antonio and given $10 McDonald’s gift certificates, part of an effort to gain their trust. After agreeing to board the flight, they were put up in hotels “sequestered away from the migrant center, and from the possibility of actual good Samaritans finding out how the class members were being abused,” the suit alleges.
Separately from Tuesday’s civil suit, some critics have suggested Florida’s gambit may have violated federal criminal laws. Massachusetts state Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D), who represents Martha’s Vineyard, asked the Justice Department to launch a human trafficking investigation into the relocation, tweeting that “there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.” However, many legal experts are skeptical. American Immigration Council policy director Aaron Reichlin-Melnick said on Twitter the flights likely didn’t violate a federal statute that prohibits transporting undocumented immigrants and is often used to prosecute smugglers, because the migrants were already released by Homeland Security and were permitted to remain in the U.S. pending their immigration proceedings.
DeSantis Claims Credit As Dozens Of Venezuelan Migrants Arrive On Martha’s Vineyard (Forbes)
Blonde Mystery Woman ‘Perla’ At Center Of Martha’s Vineyard Migrant Controversy (Forbes)