The group of migrants that landed unexpectedly on Martha’s Vineyard last week have filed a civil rights class action lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Lawyers for Civil Rights announced Tuesday.
In a statement, LCR called DeSantis’ relocation of the migrants “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme to transport nearly 50 vulnerable immigrants, including women and children, from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard without shelter or resources in place.”
According to LCR, the migrants were targeted and coerced to board planes and cross state lines under false pretenses. LCR alleges that state officials, including DeSantis, targeted the migrants recently released from shelters and gave them false promises related to work, education and housing. Additionally, LCR said that the migrants provided items such as $10 McDonalds gift certificates to “class members suffering from chronic food insecurity.”
The civil rights lawsuit also alleges that the migrants were not told that the planes would be landing on Martha’s Vineyard and were only handed a red folder including a brochure entitled “Massachusetts Refugee Benefits” that was filled with fake information. Once the planes landed on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, the officials in question cut off contact, according to LCR.
“No human being should be used as a political pawn in the nation’s highly polarized debate over immigration,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in the statement.
“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,” stated Oscar Chacòn, Alianza Americas’ Executive Director.
DeSantis released a statement on the lawsuit at approximately 6:30 p.m.
“It is opportunistic that activists would use illegal immigrants for political theater. If these activists spent even a fraction of the time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration’s reckless border polices that entice illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often lethal journeys through Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and Coyotes,” said DeSantis’ office.
“The transportation of the immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was done on a voluntary basis. The immigrants were homeless, hungry and abandoned- and these activists didn’t care about them then. 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’ statement continued.
Oren Sellstrom, the Litigation Director for LCR told Boston 25 that some of the migrants were in dire straits when they were coerced to take the trip.
“There was one young man who we spoke to whose shoes were worn out after his travels by foot across Mexico, and the woman who was working in league with the Florida governor bought him new shoes,” Sellstrom said.
Jacob Love, a Litigation Staff Attorney, said that one of the main goals of the lawsuit is to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
“We hope this dissuades other governors and other state actors from engaging in this kind of manipulative, exploitative behavior,’” Love told Boston 25.
Earlier Monday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker stated that he did not know whether a crime had been committed.
“I don’t know,” said Baker. “Look, it’s up to the authorities on the ground there to figure out what did and didn’t happen. I am very glad that the [Bexar County] sheriff chose to open an investigation. I think that’s the right thing to do.”
“Everybody who pays attention to this issue knows that we have a giant problem with immigration in the United States,” said Baker. “It needs to be reformed. I’ve been saying this for eight years to my colleagues at the federal level. Sending people all over the country, who don’t know where they’re going and, in some cases, maybe under false pretenses is just a really lousy thing to do,”
“You need to remember that there are people who show up in Massachusetts almost every day with varying immigration status and our goal, working with many of our partners in the non-profit community, is to come up with ways for them to deal with whatever the issues they have associated with paperwork and status and housing and work because that’s most of the time what they’re most interested in and that’s what we can do something about,” said Baker.
The filed class action lawsuit can be read in full below.
Watch an interview with Massachusetts Rep. Julian Cyr regarding the lawsuit that was filed.
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