The migrants who were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other state officials who orchestrated the flights to Massachusetts, saying they were involved in a “fraudulent and discriminatory plan.”
The complaint, filed in federal court in Boston, alleges that Florida officials incited the migrants to board the two planes from Texas by falsely promising them “job opportunities, schooling for the children.” and immigration assistance” when they arrived at their destination.
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, an organization that provides legal aid to migrants, said in a statement that “no human should be used as a political pawn in the highly polarized debate about immigration in the country.”
Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said in a statement that the complaint was “political theater.”
“The transportation of the immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was on a voluntary basis,” Ms Fenske said. “The immigrants were homeless, hungry and abandoned – and these activists didn’t care about them then.”
The migrants are seeking unspecified damages from their lawsuit, which also names Jared Perdue, the secretary of Florida’s Department of Transportation, as the defendant. They are also trying to end the practice of transporting migrants across state lines “through fraud and misrepresentation”.
The lawsuit came less than a week after the unexpected arrival by plane of about 50 Venezuelan migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, where residents and volunteers struggled to get them food, clothing and shelter as the cash-rich summer resort became an unlikely arena in the fight against illegal immigration.
Mr. DeSantis’ office assumed responsibility for the flights the following day. According to the complaint, Florida spent approximately $615,000 chartering the planes.
The episode marked the latest escalation of Republican officials, who have been shipping busloads of migrants to liberal bastions like Washington and New York to signal their protest at the surge in illegal immigration under President Biden. This fiscal year, more than two million undocumented immigrants have been arrested along the southern border, a record, according to Customs and Border Protection data released Monday.
Many of the migrants who have applied for asylum and work in the United States in recent months have fled Venezuela, which is in political and economic turmoil.
On Monday, the county sheriff in San Antonio opened a criminal investigation into the operation, but did not specify which laws may have been violated.
Oren Sellstrom, the trial director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, said Tuesday that “the offenders who approached our clients in Texas gained their trust by providing basic needs to individuals in desperate situations.”
When they finally got to Martha’s Vineyard, he said, “those individuals disappeared and it became clear it was all a political stunt.”
Migrants have said in interviews that a well-dressed woman in San Antonio, who introduced herself as Perla, offered to take them to the “sanctuary” in Massachusetts. But Mr Sellstrom said there were at least four people making “false representations”.
According to the indictment, the migrants were given a “glossy red folder” containing a brochure titled “Massachusetts Refugee Benefits” and other “official-looking material” created by Florida officials.
According to the complaint, the migrants were told before the flight that they were going to Boston or Washington DC.
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