The lawsuit was filed against DeSantis, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, the state of Florida and the state Department of Transportation, according to the release and lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges, in part, that the defendants defrauded vulnerable immigrants to present a political motive for chartering two planes carrying immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
“No man should be used as a political pawn in the nation’s most polarized debate on immigration,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.
A woman gathered several dozen migrants to “sign a document to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card,” he said, adding that “she did not explain what the document said, and it was not fully translated into Spanish: the entire paragraph about responsibility and transportation was not translated, and that the trip would be from Texas to Massachusetts.” The language of reference is also untranslated.”
One of the plaintiffs in the case, according to court documents, was told by unidentified individuals “when he first met that leaving Texas would provide him with permanent housing, stable employment and help with his immigration process.”
Oscar Chacon, executive director of Allianz Americas, called DeSantis’ flights to Martha’s Vineyard “morally repugnant.” Alianza Americas is a network of immigrant-led organizations that support immigrants across the United States.
“That’s why we’ve taken action to legally challenge what we consider morally reprehensible, but what we believe is illegal,” Saccone said in a statement. “We want to do everything we can to prevent more abuses against newly arrived immigrants, especially asylum seekers and their loved ones in their home countries, who deserve recognition for the support, protection and incredible contributions they make to America.”
In response to the lawsuit, DeSantis’ office repeated what it had previously said: the transport of immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard “was done on a voluntary basis.”
“Immigrants were homeless, hungry and abandoned — these activists didn’t care about them at the time. Florida’s program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state, and these people wanted to take advantage of charter flights to Massachusetts,” the report said. According to
DeSantis’ office released a copy of their “Official Consent to Transport” form, which includes a redacted signature of someone they believe is the immigrant who agreed to fly them to Martha’s Vineyard.
A Texas sheriff begins an investigation into the Martha’s Vineyard incident
Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar told reporters Monday evening that his agency will begin an investigation into the transportation of 48 Venezuelan immigrants from the state to Martha’s Vineyard.
Salazar, a Democrat, said Monday that it was his understanding that a Venezuelan immigrant was paid last Wednesday to recruit 50 immigrants from a resource center in San Antonio, a Bexar County seat. As such, Salazar said he believes laws were broken not only locally, but federally as well.
The emigrants were transported to Florida and then to Martha’s Vineyard under “false pretenses.”
The sheriff said they were “taken to Martha’s Vineyard for a photo shoot and got stranded.” He believes the migrants were “exploited and tricked” into making the journey for political posturing. The sheriff is speaking with an attorney representing some of the immigrants for the first accounts of what happened, Salazar told reporters.
He said the allegations he had heard so far were “disgusting and a violation of human rights”. Salazar said he believes there should be accountability for what happened.
DeSantis, who took credit for organizing the migrant flight, told Fox News on Monday night that the migrants were not misled.
“They all signed consent forms to go, and then the salesperson who does this for Florida gave them a packet with a map of Martha’s Vineyard, which had numbers for different services on Martha’s Vineyard,” DeSantis said.
“Given where they were, why wouldn’t they want to go? They were in such bad shape, they needed to be cleaned, everything, treated well,” he said.
The Florida Department of Transportation paid $1.565 million to Destin-based airline Verdol Systems as part of a state program to relocate immigrants, according to state budget records.
Budget records show $615,000 was paid on Sept. 8 and $950,000 was paid by the state on Sept. 16.
Budget records don’t detail what kind of “contracted services” were provided to the Verdol department, and it’s unclear whether the two payments were for two flights to Martha’s Vineyard, which were operated by a separate private jet company called Ultimate Jet Charters in Ohio.
Delaware prepares for potential immigrant influx
The productions came after flight tracking sites overnight showed a flight plan filed with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Commercial Planning Commission involved one of the Ultimate Jet charter planes used on the Martha’s Vineyard flights and similar to the plane. The sites listed a route from Kelly Field in San Antonio with a short stop in Crestview, Florida, and on to Georgetown, Delaware.
Sheriff Salazar in Texas said Wednesday he was told to expect another flight on Tuesday, but plans were changed.
“We got word this morning that a plane was going to arrive in San Antonio and leave for Delaware with a planeload of migrants,” he told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Tuesday. “My understanding is that at the last minute, we got word that the flight was delayed.”
Salazar said no reason was given for the flight’s delay.
Jill Fredel, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services, said at a news conference Tuesday that there were no reports of any immigrants arriving at this time. He said the governor’s office had not received any information from Florida or Texas, but noted the state was making arrangements just in case.
Gov. John Carney’s office also heard about the reports and officials are working to prepare in case the immigrants arrive unannounced, said Emily David Hershman, the governor’s spokeswoman.
“We are coordinating with federal authorities and are ready to receive these families in an orderly manner as they continue to seek asylum,” he said.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung, Ray Sanchez, Amy Simonson, Paul P. Murphy, Priscilla Alvarez, Steve Contorno, Manu Raju and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
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