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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard sue Florida governor

By Eduardo Medina and Remy Tumin

The migrants who were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and other state officials who orchestrated the flights to Massachusetts, saying that they had engaged in a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme.”

The complaint, which was filed in federal court in Boston, states that the Florida officials induced the migrants to board the two planes from Texas by falsely promising them that there would be “work 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 providing legal assistance to the migrants, said in a statement that “no human being should be used as a political pawn in the nation’s highly polarized debate over immigration.”

Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, a Republican, said in a statement that the complaint was “political theater.”

“The transportation of the immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was done on a voluntary basis,” 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 suit, which also names Jared Perdue, the secretary of Florida’s Department of Transportation, as a defendant. They are also seeking to stop the practice of transporting migrants across states lines “by fraud and misrepresentation.”

The lawsuit came less than a week after the unexpected arrival by plane of roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, where residents and volunteers scrambled to get them food, clothing and shelter as the moneyed summer resort became an unlikely arena in the fight over illegal immigration.

DeSantis’ office took responsibility for the flights the following day. The complaint states that Florida spent about $615,000 chartering the planes.

The episode marked the latest escalation from Republican officials, who have shipped busloads of migrants to liberal bastions like Washington and New York to signal their protest to the rise in illegal immigration under President Joe Biden. More than 2 million unauthorized immigrants have been arrested along the southern border this fiscal year, a record, according to Customs and Border Protection data released Monday.

Many of the migrants who have sought asylum and work in the United States in recent months are fleeing Venezuela, which is in political and economic turmoil.

On Monday, the county sheriff in San Antonio, opened a criminal investigation into the operation, but he did not specify which laws might have been broken.

Oren Sellstrom, the litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, said Tuesday that “the perpetrators who approached our clients in Texas gained their trust by offering individuals who were in desperate situations basic life necessities.”

When they finally arrived 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 “sanctuary” in Massachusetts. But Sellstrom said that there were at least four people who made “false representations.”

The complaint states the migrants were given a “shiny, red folder” that included a brochure titled “Massachusetts Refugee Benefits” and other “official-looking materials” that were created by Florida officials.

Before the flight, the complaint states, the migrants were told that they were going to Boston or Washington, D.C. But before landing, they were told of their new drop-off location, the complaint states: an island south of Cape Cod.

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