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Legal groups allege migrants transported from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard were misled

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
John Raoux
/
AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the migrants he ordered transported from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week voluntarily boarded planes for Massachusetts and signed consent forms. But a civil rights group suing DeSantis and others for allegedly tricking the migrants as part of a so-called political stunt.

Attorneys for the Venezuelan migrants, who are suing Florida Gov. DeSantis after being transported from Texas to the Massachusetts island, said the consent forms migrants signed were missing material information and not fully translated.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the migrants he ordered transported from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week voluntarily boarded planes for Massachusetts and signed consent forms.

But a civil rights group suing DeSantis and others for allegedly tricking the migrants as part of a so-called political stunt said the consent forms are instead proof of the Republican lawmaker’s wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, a group of Venezuelan asylum seekers who were sent to the upscale community filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, Florida Secretary of Transportation Jared W. Perdue and five unnamed persons alleging a scheme that included misrepresentation and false promises.

In a statement Tuesday, DeSantis’s communications director Taryn Fenske said the migrants weren’t forced to board the planes and that they were abandoned in Texas by authorities.

“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,” Fenske said. “Florida’s program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these individuals opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts.”

On Wednesday, however, attorneys representing the migrants said the consent forms are actually evidence against DeSantis and the other plaintiffs.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the forms lacked basic information that should have been provided to the migrants.

“The consent forms themselves are further evidence against the defendants. They clearly show the material information — about how the relocation would occur [and] where they would go — was not included in the forms, especially in the Spanish translation portion of the form,” he said during a Wednesday conference call about the case. “The form was not fully translated; it was missing material information that would have been needed for our clients to make an informed decision and provide consent.”

DeSantis’s office declined to comment on Espinoza-Madrigal’s assertions and instead referred back to Tuesday’s statement, saying any additional statements on the matter would be made through legal filings.

The migrants and plaintiffs Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based immigrant advocacy group, 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.

The other defendants are unnamed, though the court filing describes what may have been aliases used by those who allegedly lured the migrants to board the plane through promises they would be provided shelter, educational resources and help with immigration proceedings, according to the filing.

They include people identified as “Perla” and “Emanuel” who apparently approached the migrants outside of a shelter in San Antonio and fed them what the attorneys said is false information.

“Perla” told one of the plaintiffs that she and her family “would be provided with permanent housing, work, educational resources for her son, and help changing her address for immigration proceedings,” the lawsuit states.

Espinoza-Madrigal said they are still working to figure out the real identities of the “Perla” and the others and hoped they would have more information during the discovery process of the trial.

The lawsuit comes after Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Monday said he launched his own investigation into the people who he said lured the migrants to board the airplane destined for Martha’s Vineyard.

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