While defending the sending of migrants to “sanctuary jurisdictions”, Gov. Ron DeSantis fell victim on Tuesday to a possible class action lawsuit alleging Venezuelan migrants were lured by false promises to fly last week from Texas at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Massachusetts, named as defendants DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and unidentified people accused of rounding up migrants in Texas. .
Florida paid for two flights out of a $12 million pot that Republican lawmakers included in the state budget this year at DeSantis’ request for migrant relocation. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys from the Lawyers for Civil Rights organization, alleges violations of the US Constitution and other laws.
“These immigrants, who are seeking appropriate avenues to gain legal immigration status in the United States, have experienced cruelty similar to that which they fled in their home country,” the lawsuit said. “The defendants manipulated them, stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process and equal protection under the law, and impermissibly interfered with the control federal government’s exclusive immigration policy in pursuit of an illegal purpose and a personal political agenda.”
The lawsuit named as plaintiffs three Venezuelan migrants – identified as Yanet Doe, Pablo Doe and Jesus Doe – who were among about 50 people on flights last Wednesday to Martha’s Vineyard. Alianza Americas is also a civil party.
The attorneys seek to certify the lawsuit as a class action that would include “all immigrants who have been, or will in the future be, induced by the defendants to cross state lines by fraud and misrepresentation.” In addition to seeking a ruling that the laws were violated last week, the lawsuit calls for the defendants to be prevented from “inducing immigrants to cross state lines by fraud and misrepresentation.”
In part, the case alleges that unidentified defendants in Texas provided items such as $10 McDonald’s gift cards to migrants to gain their trust. It alleges that the unidentified defendants subsequently “made false promises and misrepresentations that if the plaintiffs and class members were willing to board planes to other states, they would receive employment, accommodation, educational opportunities and other similar forms of assistance upon arrival”.
“In fact, the defendants had made no arrangements regarding employment, housing, educational opportunities or other assistance for the individual plaintiffs or other class members at their destination,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants had not even notified any governmental or non-profit entity that might provide such services that individual plaintiffs and their similarly situated class members would arrive.”
DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske released a statement late Tuesday saying it is “opportunistic for activists to use illegal immigrants for political theater. If these activists spent even a fraction of that time and of these efforts at the border, perhaps some responsibility would be placed on the Biden administration’s reckless border policies that incentivize illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often deadly journeys across Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and coyotes.”
“The transportation of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was done on a voluntary basis,” Fenske said. “The immigrants were homeless, starving and abandoned – and these activists didn’t care about them at the time. Florida’s program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these people chose to take advantage of flights charters to Massachusetts.”
The lawsuit emerged hours after DeSantis, during an appearance at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside in Bradenton, defended the decision to transport migrants and criticized federal immigration policies. DeSantis reiterated that he believes President Joe Biden should reinstate immigration policies used by former President Donald Trump, such as requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico.
“Other than that, if you believe in open borders, it’s the sanctuary jurisdictions that should bear the brunt of open borders,” DeSantis said.
Rumors swirled on Tuesday that another flight would bring migrants to Biden’s home state of Delaware. As of 6 p.m., such a flight had not landed in Delaware.
Responding to the rumours, Biden said DeSantis “should come visit us. We have a beautiful coastline.
Flights over the past week have gone from San Antonio, Texas, to Crestview in northwest Florida and finally to Martha’s Vineyard.
DeSantis, who is running for re-election in November and is widely seen as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2024, claimed Tuesday that the flights have shifted the national narrative on immigration issues. He accused people now concerned of not expressing similar “outrage” over the June deaths in Texas of dozens of migrants who were in a tractor-trailer or about illegal drugs crossing the border.
Biden said borders have become overwhelmed over the past year as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have become more unstable.
Biden said there was “no reason” to send these people back to their country. On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that migrant arrests exceeded 2 million in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The number was up from 1.66 million the previous year.
In addition to the class action lawsuit, DeSantis faced questions from Democrats and other critics who alleged he exceeded his budgetary authority by using state money for flights from Texas.
The state budget says the $12 million is for transporting “unauthorized aliens from this state in accordance with federal law.” The term “unauthorized alien” is defined in the budget as a person unlawfully present in the United States under federal immigration and nationality law.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, a Democrat, said Monday he has launched an investigation to determine if criminal activity occurred while flying migrants “legally here in our country” from San Antonio for “a little more than a photo shoot”.
“We all know that during a political campaign things can get nasty, things can get out of control,” Salazar told a news conference. “But when you play with the human lives of people who are already in dire straits, people who once again had every right to be where they were, but were lured under false pretences, it tends to to bother me a bit.”
Salazar was unable to say what laws might have been broken. He said his agency had names of people of interest and needed to interview the migrants to determine if a fee applied.
“We want to know what was promised to them? What, if any, did they sign? Did they even understand the document presented to them if they signed something? Or was it strictly a predatory measure? Salazar said.
Meanwhile, State House New Service in Boston reported that Massachusetts lawmakers have called for federal investigations into DeSantis and Florida’s use of taxpayer money. Additionally, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, advocated for “meaningful immigration reform.”
“Sending people all over the country, many of whom have no idea why they are being sent where they are going, is not a solution to the very screwed up immigration system we have in the United States” , Baker said.