Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard file class-action suit against DeSantis
The group of Venezuelan migrants flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., last week by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) filed a class-action suit against the governor and the state’s transportation secretary on Tuesday.
The suit provides a detailed account of how the migrants came to board the two planes allegedly under false pretenses, arguing the relocations violated their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“These immigrants, who are pursuing the proper channels for lawful immigration status in the United States, experienced cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country,” the suit alleges.
“Defendants manipulated them, stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process and equal protection under law, and impermissibly interfered with the Federal Government’s exclusive control over immigration in furtherance of an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda,” it continues.
The suit, filed in a federal trial court in Massachusetts, asks a judge to declare DeSantis’s relocations illegal under the Constitution as well as federal and state laws. It also asks the judge to prevent Florida from inducing immigrants to travel across state laws by fraud and misrepresentation.
Taryn Feske, DeSantis’s communications director, said in a statement that the relocations were done on a “voluntary basis.” DeSantis’s office also provided a copy of consent forms, which list “Massachusetts” as the final destination, they say the migrants signed.
“The immigrants were homeless, hungry, and abandoned – and these activists didn’t care about them then,” said Feske. “Florida’s program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these individuals opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts. It was disappointing that Martha’s Vineyard called in the Massachusetts National Guard to bus them away from the island within 48 hours.”
DeSantis became the latest GOP governor to relocate migrants to northern areas of the country in protest of President Biden’s immigration policies and so-called “sanctuary cities.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has bused migrants to Washington, D.C., while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has sent individuals to D.C., New York City and Chicago, arguing the moves relieve border communities overwhelmed by an influx of migrants.
The relocations have fueled fury among Democrats, who accuse the GOP governors of using the migrants as political pawns — a sentiment echoed throughout the class action suit.
A Texas sheriff separately opened an investigation into the Martha’s Vineyard flights on Monday.
DeSantis said the flights were paid for using a $12 million fund approved by the state legislature for migrant relocations. The suit names the state transportation department and its head as defendants, as the fund was appropriated to the department.
Alianza Americas, a network of groups supporting immigrants, filed the class action suit with three unnamed migrants DeSantis relocated, claiming the scheme also constituted intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and fraud.
Boston-based group Lawyers for Civil Rights said its attorneys, who have been on the island since last week, are representing the plaintiffs.
“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,” Oscar Chacòn, Alianza Americas’ executive director, said in a statement.
The complaint lays out the most detailed narrative yet as to how the migrants came to board the flight.
The plaintiffs allege the migrants were located at a migrant resource center in San Antonio, Texas and other localities, where individuals who identified themselves as “Perla” and “Emanuel” approached them and offered items like $10 McDonald’s gift cards for those experiencing food insecurity.
The individuals, portraying themselves as good Samaritans, collected some of the migrants’ immigration paperwork, and if they “fit the bill,” the individuals proceeded to make false promises of benefits if they agreed to board flights to other states, according to the suit.
The migrants were then allegedly given free hotel stays in Texas until they left for the airport.
The plaintiffs said the migrants boarded the flights with the belief they would land in Washington, D.C. or Boston, but they were told while in the air they would instead be arriving in Martha’s Vineyard.
They were also allegedly given a brochure that outlined support services in Massachusetts, but the programs referenced had “highly specific eligibility requirements” that the migrants did not meet, the suit said.
“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” it stated.
The migrants have since been relocated to a military base elsewhere in Massachusetts.
DeSantis has said the flights were “just the beginning” of relocation efforts.
Updated: 9:38 p.m.