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Migrants flown from Texas to Massachusetts sue Florida Gov. DeSantis and other officials

Election 2022 Transporting Migrants
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
/
AP
A group of asylum seekers who were flown from Texas to Massachusetts on orders from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have sued the Republican leader and other state officials (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

Some of the migrants have said they were lured on to the flights with promises of jobs, housing and other benefits.

Updated September 21, 2022 at 9:05 AM CT

A group of asylum seekers who were flown from Texas to Massachusetts on orders from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have filed a lawsuit against the Republican lawmaker and other state officials alleging a scheme that included misrepresentation and false promises.

The lawsuit alleges the migrants were tricked into traveling to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in order to exploit the migrants’ vulnerability “for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests.” The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. district court in Massachusetts on Tuesday and names DeSantis, Florida Secretary of Transportation Jared W. Perdue and five unnamed persons as defendants.

About 50 migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday on a flight that originated from San Antonio and was paid for with state funds, NPR reported last week. NPR confirmed that a plane originated in San Antonio, made a stop in Florida and then another stop in South Carolina before flying on to Martha's Vineyard.

A spokesperson for DeSantis sent a statement to NPR and other news outlets confirming that the migrants were transported by Florida under a state program funded by the legislature earlier this year. The statement reads in part: "States like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration."

Some of the migrants have since said they were lured on to the flights with promises of jobs, housing and other benefits. The class-action lawsuit names as plaintiffs Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based immigrant advocacy group, as well as Yanet Doe, Pablo Doe, Jesus Doe and other unnamed persons. The “Doe” defendants all sought asylum after fleeing Venezuela.

“After luring Plaintiffs by exploiting their most basic needs, the Doe Defendants then made false promises and false representations that if Plaintiffs and class members were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival,” the court filing states. “Next, the Defendants put class members up for free in hotels, sequestered away from the migrant center, and from the possibility of actual good Samaritans finding out how the class members were being abused.”

The migrants are alleging DeSantis, Perdue and the other defendants violated elements of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments, including illegal search and seizure and due process violations. DeSantis’s office did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

One of the defendants is being identified in the lawsuit as “Perla” who the defendant identified as Yanet Doe said approached her in San Antonio. Yanet Doe and her family crossed the border in July at Piedras Negras, Coahuila, which is across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. The family surrendered to federal officials after entering and received notices to appear before an immigration judge next month, according to the complaint.

The family eventually made its way to San Antonio and were approached by “Perla …who was asking people outside the shelter if they needed help” and were told “if the family got on the flight she arranged, then [Yanet Doe] would be provided with permanent housing, work, educational resources for her son, and help changing her address for immigration proceedings,” the lawsuit states.

DeSantis’s communications director Taryn Fenske said in a statement late Tuesday the migrants weren’t forced to board the planes and they were abandoned in Texas by authorities. The office also accused advocacy groups of their own “political theater” by filing the lawsuit.

“If these activists spent even a fraction of this time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration’s reckless border policies 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,” Fenske said. “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.”

The office then provided an example of a consent and liability waiver the migrants were asked to sign indicating they agree to be transported out of Texas to “sanctuary States.”

The complaint names a second defendant as “Emanuel” who also allegedly targeted some of the migrants to lure them to board the flights. Three additional unnamed defendants also participated in the scheme, according to the lawsuit.

The issue of transporting migrants to so-called “sanctuary states” in the latest in the fight over immigration between the Biden administration and far-right conservatives like DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Abbott has ordered state officials to transport thousands of migrants to cities that include New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. As of Monday, Abbott’s office said he’s sent more than 11,000 migrants out of Texas on charter buses.

“The busing mission is providing much-needed relief to our overwhelmed border communities,” he said in a statement. Abbott has said he was not involved in the flights DeSantis ordered but he nonetheless applauded the move.

Meanwhile, the migrants who filed suit said they fled an oppressive regime only to be hoodwinked for political gain instead of welcomed into a country that rails against socialist and communist dictators.

“They fled to the United States in a desperate attempt to protect themselves and their families from gang, police, and state-sponsored violence and the oppression of political dissent. To put it simply, Plaintiffs, and the class of similarly situated individuals they seek to represent, are vulnerable in a way and to an extent that almost defies verbal description. They are as deserving of dignity and empathy as anyone among us,” the filing notes.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.