Migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard file civil rights suit against DeSantis

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:20 PM EDT
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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - A Massachusetts law firm has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis on behalf of migrants who were sent to Martha’s Vineyard under what they say were false pretenses. The news comes after DeSantis made an impassioned speech in Bradenton early Tuesday.

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against DeSantis, Secretary of Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, the State of Florida, and others for what they call a “discriminatory scheme” to transport close to 50 immigrants, including women and children, from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts without shelter or resources in place.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a class of affected immigrants, including the immigrants stranded in Martha’s Vineyard, and Alianza Americas, a network of migrant-led organizations supporting immigrants across the United States.

DeSantis made comments about the situation early Tuesday during a news conference.

“If you believe in open borders, then it’s the sanctuary jurisdictions that should have to bear the brunt of the open borders,” DeSantis said. “So that is what we are doing. But what happened was, they were provided the ability to be in the poshest sanctuary jurisdiction maybe in the world.

“And is obviously it’s sad because Martha’s Vineyard people deported them the next day. They could have absorbed this; but they choose not to. What it shows is if 50 people were a burden on one of the richest places in the country. What about all the other communities that have been overrun with hundreds and thousands?” DeSantis said to a cheering crowd gathered at Anna Maria Oyster Bar.

According to The Associated Press, the governors of Texas and Arizona have sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., in recent months.

Most recently, this also included two flights to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday paid for by Florida. The plaintiffs say they were targeted and induced to cross state lines under false pretenses.

“No human being should be used as a political pawn in the nation’s highly polarized debate over immigration,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, an organization providing free legal assistance to the migrants.

The suit alleges that DeSantis targeted immigrants recently released from shelters and made false promises of work opportunities, schooling for the children, and immigration assistance to trick them into agreeing to travel. Until immediately before landing, the suit states that the affected immigrants did not know they were going to Martha’s Vineyard.

DeSantis, who was in Bradenton to talk about potential tax breaks, has defended his decision.

““I think it’s opening people’s eyes to the solution, which is let’s have a secure border,” he said.

The suit claims that once the planes landed in Martha’s Vineyard those who had coerced individuals to travel under these false pretenses disappeared, leaving the immigrants to learn that the offers of assistance had all been a ruse to exploit them for political purposes.

“For the governor of Florida to cynically use recently arrived immigrants who have applied for asylum in the U.S. to advance a hate-driven agenda intended to create confusion and rejection throughout the country, is not only morally despicable, but utterly contrary to the best traditions of humanitarian protection embraced by most Americans,” stated Oscar Chacòn, Alianza Americas’ executive director.

“That is why we have taken the steps to legally challenge what we view as not only a morally reprehensible action, but what we believe is also illegal,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to prevent more abuses against newly arrived immigrants, especially asylum seekers who deserve support, protection and to be recognized for the incredible contributions they make to the U.S., as well as their loved ones in their home countries.”

A copy of the complaint appears below. Click here to download the complaint.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.