Texas sheriff to investigate DeSantis flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard

A group of Venezuelan migrants who were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week – allegedly after being falsely promised jobs and other services – have filed a class-action lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other officials who arranged the flights. They said officers used fraud and false information to convince them to travel across state lines.

According to a copy of the complaint, the migrants said they were approached outside a San Antonio shelter by people who “in collusion” with Florida officials “pretended to be good Samaritans offering humanitarian assistance.”

The supposed Good Samaritans told the migrants they would be given jobs, housing, educational opportunities and other support if they were willing to board planes to other states, the complaint said.

“Defendants rounded up individual plaintiffs and other group members and seized them in hotel rooms while collecting enough of them to fill two planes and carry out their plan,” the complaint said, adding that the migrants were seized, so they couldn’t discuss the plans with anyone else.

The complaint says the migrants were taken to a private airstrip where they boarded two planes on September 14. Just before the planes landed on Martha’s Vineyard, each migrant received “a shiny, red folder” containing official-looking materials, including a booklet titled “Massachusetts Refugee Benefits,” according to the complaint.

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“As the individual plaintiffs and group members landed, it became clear that the promises made to get them on the planes were in fact outright lies,” the complaint reads. “The defendants completely failed the class members. They did not travel with the class members or connect or arrange for services upon arrival.”

The migrants are seeking unspecified damages, as well as the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic damage.

The day after the migrants arrived in Martha’s Vineyard, DeSantis announced that he had arranged for their transportation — part of an ongoing campaign by himself and other Republican governors to send migrants to Democratic-leaning cities like Washington, New York and Chicago to meet the Soaring publicize number of border crossings this year at the southern border.

Democrats and pro-immigrants condemned the incident as a blatant political stunt; The White House has criticized DeSantis and other Republican governors for “using migrants as political pawns” as “shameful…reckless and just plain wrong.”

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“There is a procedure. And what they are doing is an illegal stunt, a political stunt,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week. “And it’s really just disrespectful to humanity.”

Jean-Pierre referred questions about whether the Biden administration would pursue legal action to the Justice Department.

Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Florida said they were surprised when they arrived on the island on September 15. (Video: Reuters)

The class action is the latest of the legal developments that followed the political fallout. On Monday, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had opened an investigation into reported subterfuges that migrants from the San Antonio shelter were persuaded to board planes.

“They feel they were deceived when they were taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they ended up,” Sheriff Javier Salazar (D) told CNN on Tuesday. “They feel this has been done by deceptive means. That could be a crime here in Texas and we will treat it as such.”

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In a statement, Salazar said his office also works with private attorneys representing victims and advocacy groups, and is prepared “to cooperate with any federal agency that has concurrent jurisdiction, as needed.”

“They were promised a solution to several of their problems,” Salazar said Monday. “As far as we know, they were taken to Martha’s Vineyard for little more than a photo op, a video op, and then they were unceremoniously stranded on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Requests for comment sent to the DeSantis communications office late Monday went unanswered.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he spoke with the sheriff about his decision to investigate.

“We thought early on that if they were lured under false pretenses, it could be a crime,” Wolff said. “If you think about what smugglers do, it’s not much different.”

He said it’s not clear if the recruiters could be linked to DeSantis, but “if it turns out something was done wrong, he could be held responsible. He instigated it.”

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Lori Rozsa, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, and Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.

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