Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inhumane and depraved stunt keeps getting worse as more facts emerge. On Wednesday, DeSantis loaded 48 migrants—who are asylum-seekers mostly from Venezuela—onto planes in in San Antonio, Texas. They then flew to Florida, then eventually on to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where there are no refugee services. Officials there had no warning, but the community rallied in support of the incomers -- to the point where officials received so many donations and volunteers that they had to turn them away.
That’s the heartwarming part of the story. The part that makes this so much worse than we even knew before is emerging as the story comes from the migrants themselves through the immigration attorneys who have mobilized to help them. That includes the allegation that U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents assisted DeSantis in this stunt.
Here’s immigration attorney Rachel Self relating what she heard from her new clients.
According to the migrants, DHS agents met the migrants as they were boarding the plane. The agents gave them false addresses of homeless shelters from all over the country—from Tacoma, Washington, to Florida—and told them to use those locations as their contact addresses. “According to the paperwork provided to them, the migrants are required to check in with the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] office nearest to the fake address chosen for them by DHS, or be permanently removed from the United States,” Self said. Some are required to check in as early as Monday morning.
“It could not be clearer that this is an attempt to have these people ordered to be removed even if they try as hard as they can to comply with the instructions provided to them,” Self told a group of reporters.
“Their biggest concern today is that many of them have dates to appear in San Antonio Monday morning. Tacoma, Washington Monday morning. Washington, D.C. Monday morning,” Self said. “Their biggest concern is compliance.” Tallahassee immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci told the Orlando Sentinel on Friday that DHS and ICE had to be involved. “ICE likely conspired with the governor’s office to pull off the stunt,” Ricci said. “It couldn’t have been done without their direct involvement.”
DHS officials haven’t responded to the allegation yet.
The migrants were lured onto the planes thinking they were getting jobs and housing. Emmanuel, a 20-year-old Venezuelan migrant, told the San Antonio Report that he had been paid $200 in cash by a woman who identified herself as “Perla” to recruit fellow migrants to board the flights. He said Perla told him the migrants would be sent to “sanctuary states” where the government would help.
She told him an “anonymous benefactor” was funding the operation, including his payment. “Perla informed me that in those sanctuary states, the state has the benefits to help migrants,” Emmanuel told the Report. “I’ve just been the mediator because I like to help people.”
“A lot of people really come without plans, they want to come and just work and they have a hand that’ll provide them shelter,” he said. “I just saw it in that way, like a sweet way, doing it for good.”
Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is based in Boston, is providing free legal services to the migrants. The group also says that it is investigating claims by migrants that they were tricked or sent against their will into taking the flights by DeSantis, making it a possible violation of human trafficking laws.
DeSantis remains belligerent and promises this outrage will continue. He says he has people in Texas who are intercepting Venezuelans seeking refuge in Florida, where they likely have family they want to rejoin. “What we’re trying to do is profile, ‘OK, who do you think is trying to get to Florida?’ You’re trying to identify who’s most likely to come.” Are DeSantis’ “people” in Texas the DHS agents who allegedly helped him essentially kidnap these 48 people, including families with children?
The Department of Justice needs to be investigating this now. That was true before the allegations emerged that federal employees—agents of the DHS—were complicit in DeSantis’ monstrous stunt. Those allegations make a federal investigation imperative, and urgent.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.