Civil rights group files first lawsuit against DeSantis over ‘illegal’ migrant flights

“No human being should be used as a political pawn in the highly polarized national debate on immigration,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which provides free legal assistance to migrants who have landed. at Martha’s Vineyard. in a report.

The lawsuit represents the first legal action against DeSantis regarding the transport of migrants last Wednesday from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Some Democrats, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, called on the Justice Department to investigate the Florida governor over the thefts, but the DOJ took no action.

Democrats expressed outrage over the transportation and called it a political stunt with no regard for asylum seekers, while Republicans praised DeSantis, saying he drew attention to border policies of the Biden administration. Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott also ferried thousands of migrants from the southern border to Chicago, New York and Washington, where they filled the city’s shelters.

The DeSantis administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 35-page lawsuit filed in US District Court in Boston offers one of the most detailed accounts yet of how around 50 migrants ended up on two planes that unexpectedly landed at Martha’s Vineyard last week. last, and the trauma their new lawyers say they suffered. their ordeal and to be propelled to the center of the national debate on immigration.

The plaintiffs include three Venezuelan migrants who boarded planes for Martha’s Vineyard with their family members as well as Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based advocacy group for Latino immigrant communities.

The complaint alleges that people working for DeSantis were “loitering the streets outside a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locations, pretending to be good Samaritans offering humanitarian aid,” including cards- $10 McDonalds gifts and free hotels while making “false promises and misrepresentations”. of job, housing and educational opportunities awaiting migrants in Boston or Washington, D.C.

They were also reportedly told that they would receive assistance with their immigration process at their final destination and that they were “intentionally sequestered” before leaving Texas “so that they could not discuss the arrangement”. and that migrants “were less likely to leave or change their minds.”

Instead, the migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, where “no one” on the island or “anywhere in Massachusetts” knew they were coming. They were given pamphlets “eliminating the language” of the state’s refugee resettlement program – which the lawsuit argues none of the migrants are eligible for. And the people who recruited the migrants for the flights were “unreachable by phone” after landing in Massachusetts.

“These immigrants, who are seeking appropriate avenues to gain legal immigration status in the United States, have experienced cruelty similar to that which they fled in their home country,” the plaintiffs allege. “The defendants manipulated them, stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process and equal protection under the law, and impermissibly interfered with the control federal government’s exclusive immigration policy in pursuit of an illegal purpose and a personal political agenda.”

Lawyers for Civil Rights has previously called on Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat and gubernatorial favorite, and Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins to open a criminal investigation into the plight of the migrants.

A Texas sheriff did just that on Monday: Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, an elected Democrat, said that while he couldn’t cite specific laws that might have been broken by relocating migrants, his office will investigate what he called a “human rights abuse.”

DeSantis has continued to defend his actions, saying last week that the migrants boarded the flights voluntarily and were not coerced. He argued that Florida’s Republican-led Legislature approved $12 million to ferry migrants out of state, though Democrats claimed the flights were an inappropriate use of allocated funds.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, also a Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that Salazar had done “the right thing” by opening an investigation into DeSantis’ actions and sending migrants across the country, potentially under false pretences. , is “just a really ugly thing”. do.” But he refrained from directly condemning DeSantis, whom he said he had not spoken to since the migrants landed in Martha’s Vineyard last Wednesday.

“What I would really like to see happen is I would like to see the federal government create an immigration policy that people can understand and people can enforce and people can respect,” Baker said.

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