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DeSantis, Florida officials sued by immigrant rights advocates for sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard

“This cowardly political stunt has placed our clients in peril. Numerous laws were brazenly violated to secure media headlines.”

Mother and daughter migrants take in the view as their ferry pulls away from Martha’s Vineyard on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. Matt Cosby/The New York Times

Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights said Wednesday that it filed a class action lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, the State of Florida, and other “accomplices” regarding the transportation of a group of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard earlier this month.

In an announcement, the group said that the operation to move the migrants was “fraudulent and discriminatory.” The group was brought from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard without shelter or resources in place, LCR said. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of multiple affected migrants, including the group of about 50 Venezuelans flown to Massachusetts and Alianza Americas, a network of migrant-led organizations. 

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Shortly after the migrants arrived on Martha’s Vineyard Sept. 14, DeSantis took credit in statements to Fox News. The migrants are believed to have been flown out of San Antonio before their planes stopped in Florida and then made their way to Massachusetts. 

“For the Governor of Florida to cynically use recently arrived immigrants who have applied for asylum in the U.S. to advance a hate-driven agenda intended to create confusion and rejection throughout the country, is not only morally despicable, but utterly contrary to the best traditions of humanitarian protection embraced by most Americans,” said Oscar Chacòn, Alianza Americas’ Executive Director, in a statement. 

In a release, LCR alleged that the migrants were specifically targeted and made to cross state lines under false pretenses. DeSantis and others focused on migrants that had been recently released from shelters, LCR alleged, and were lured with false promises of work opportunities, education, and immigration assistance. 

The migrants allegedly believed they were going to Massachusetts, but did not know they would be dropped off on Martha’s Vineyard, where seasonal work is drying up and shelters did not have the capacity to house them for the long term. 

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“This cowardly political stunt has placed our clients in peril. Numerous laws were brazenly violated to secure media headlines,” said Oren Sellstrom, the Litigation Director of LCR, in a statement. 

On Monday, a Texas sheriff announced that he is opening a criminal investigation into the actions taken by unnamed people in San Antonio who allegedly enticed the migrants into being flown to Massachusetts. 

“At this point, I’m not able to definitively say ‘here’s the statute that they broke, either federal, state, or local,’ but what I can tell you is that it’s wrong. Just from a human rights perspective, what was done to these folks is wrong,” Javier Salazar, Sheriff of Bexar County, Tex., said.

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