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The migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard have left, but their stories continue


After spending two days in Martha's Vineyard, nearly 50 migrants, most from Venezuela, have left the island. They were taken to Joint Base Cape Cod, where officials are expected to find them accommodations. We're joined now by Oren Sellstrom, litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights. Welcome.

OREN SELLSTROM: Thank you for having me.

SUMMERS: And just as a reminder - these migrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard from Texas by the governor of Florida. Oren, you're in Boston, but your team has been assisting these migrants. What details did they share with you about how they ended up in Texas?

SELLSTROM: We at Civil - Lawyers for Civil Rights have been working round the clock to get to the bottom of this issue. We have talked to over 40 clients now who shared both their journeys to the border in the United States and then the extremely appalling turn of events that happened when they were in Texas and then got to Martha's Vineyard here in Massachusetts.

SUMMERS: And what did these migrants tell your team about their actual planned destination in the U.S.? Where did they believe they were trying to go?

SELLSTROM: Most of them were simply trying to flee very perilous conditions in their home country. They had traveled, many by foot, from Venezuela, seeking refuge in the United States. They arrived here, were processed through federal immigration and then were approached by individuals who were purporting to offer help, saying they could fly them to Boston, to the East Coast, would help them with work opportunities, with education for their children. It turns out it was all just a political stunt.

SUMMERS: And as your team has been speaking with these migrants, was there a story that one told your team that perhaps stands out to you?

SELLSTROM: Well, I think there were many, unfortunately, that really were heartbreaking here. There was one young man, for example, who had traveled by foot across Central America and Mexico, had been kidnapped and subject to extortion by gangs who had actually physically taken five of his teeth out with pliers - really heart-wrenching stories. And to think that then our clients made it to the United States, a place that they saw as a refuge, and then to be treated in this manner as political pawns by a state governor is really appalling.

SUMMERS: And, Oren, these people - what sort of help was your team able to give them so far? And what type of legal help will they need once they arrive at Joint Base Cape Cod?

SELLSTROM: Well, we are still in the midst of providing our full range of legal assistance. First of all, individuals need help with their individual immigration cases. One of the truly appalling parts of this whole incident is that people are now far away from where they need to be in order to appear for immigration hearings. They were told again by folks who were pretending to offer assistance that the immigration issues would be taken care of. When they were concerned about leaving Texas, where they knew that they had to go for an immigration hearing, some as early as Monday, that was a deep concern to our clients. And they were told they didn't have to worry about that. Now, of course, they do, and we are helping them to resolve those issues.

SUMMERS: OK. That's Oren Sellstrom of Lawyers for Civil Rights. Thank you so much for joining us today.

SELLSTROM: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.