Lawsuit seeks to block DeSantis migrant flights – Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers representing asylum seekers who were allegedly “tricked” into traveling from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on flights funded by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration said Wednesday they are seeking a nationwide injunction to prevent the governor from enticing immigrants to cross state lines.

DeSantis took credit for sending about 50 asylum seekers last week from San Antonio, Texas to the liberal enclave of Massachusetts, drawing on $12 million from Florida lawmakers earmarked from the budget for the state to transport undocumented immigrants.

State records show the Florida Department of Transportation paid Oregon-based Vertol Systems Company Inc., which has an operation in Destin, more than $1.5 million for the “relocation of unauthorized foreigners”.

The state agency paid the company $950,000 on Monday, in addition to a payment of $615,000 on September 8, records show.

The relocation of immigrants has attracted international attention. On Tuesday, attorneys representing some of the asylum seekers flown to Massachusetts filed a potential class action lawsuit against DeSantis, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and unidentified people who helped recruit the immigrants. in Texas.

The legal challenge, filed by attorneys with Massachusetts Lawyers for Civil Rights, seeks unspecified damages and asks a judge to stop the DeSantis administration from “coaching immigrants across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation”.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, told reporters on Wednesday that his organization had also requested anonymity for immigrants because they had received “a deluge of hate messages and death threats” as they were trying to recover from daunting trips to the United States. and the trauma resulting from their resettlement in the northeast.

U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs on Wednesday granted the request to keep the names of plaintiffs identified as Yanet Doe, Pablo Doe and Jesus Doe secret.

The trial is “the first of its kind in the country,” said Espinoza-Madrigal, a lawyer. Plaintiffs’ attorneys represent “all similarly stranded migrants across the country who were fraudulently induced” by DeSantis, he added.

“We understand there are other people affected, which is why this was filed as a class action lawsuit to stop DeSantis and Florida from doing it by plane or by bus, in terms of tricking people, deceive people, to lie to people about where they are going and what they will receive on the other end. This has to stop,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.

Lawsuit alleges defendants ‘made false promises and representations’ that immigrants ‘would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities and other similar forms of assistance’ upon arrival in Massachusetts .

In Texas, immigrants were given items such as $10 McDonald’s gift cards and promised “free shoes” if they agreed to take the flights, with many people allegedly not understanding where they were going. The immigrants were placed in a hotel for several days before boarding two charter planes on September 14.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation. Never before have immigrants been put at risk in this way,” Espinoza-Madrigal said during a videoconference with reporters. “If the Martha’s Vineyard community hadn’t acted so quickly and embraced and protected them, things could have turned out very differently. … We are talking about a very vulnerable group of immigrants.

The lawsuit alleges that the immigrants, who are mostly from Venezuela, were legally in the country pending processing by federal authorities.

After arriving in Texas, the immigrants had surrendered to federal authorities, had been “screened and processed” and were “under federal management” pending supervisory appointments, registrations and hearings, according to Espinoza-Madrigal. Many of them had been granted what is called “humanitarian parole”, which allows people to stay temporarily in the United States.

Recruiters for the flights gave immigrants official-looking documents “placed in shiny red folders” that looked like “an information or welcome folder” but contained incorrect information about the immigration process, a said Espinoza-Madrigal. Many of the immigrants were not eligible for the services and benefits described in the documents.

“All of this points to willful and intentional interference in pending immigration matters to sabotage and prevent our clients from complying with federal immigration law, to sabotage and derail the orderly functioning of the federal immigration system” , Espinoza-Madrigal said.

He told reporters that recruiters were “deliberately targeting” migrants, who were asked to “show their papers”, based on their national origin and race. Migrants from Venezuela were trying to escape Maduro’s socialist regime.

DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske released a statement late Tuesday accusing “opportunistic” activists of using illegal immigrants as “political theater.”

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“The transportation of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was done on a voluntary basis,” Fenske said. “The immigrants were homeless, starving and abandoned—and these activists didn’t care about them at the time. The Florida program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these people chose to take advantage charter flights to Massachusetts.

DeSantis, who is running for re-election this year and is widely seen as a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, also earlier Tuesday defended the decision to transport migrants to “sanctuary” communities and criticized federal policies. of immigrants. The governor reiterated that he believes President Joe Biden should reinstate policies used by former President Donald Trump, such as requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico.

“Other than that, if you believe in open borders, it’s the sanctuary jurisdictions that should bear the brunt of open borders,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Bradenton.

DeSantis aides did not respond to questions about Monday’s $900,000 payment to Vertol.

The flights to Massachusetts came as Republican governors in Texas and Arizona ferried thousands of immigrants to northern areas to draw attention to the situation at the US-Mexico border.

When asked why last week’s thefts sparked the lawsuit, Alianza Americas executive director Oscar Chacón pointed to the circumstances surrounding the immigrants in San Antonio. Alianza Americas is a civil party in the federal lawsuit.

“Obviously the event of the plane coming into Martha’s Vineyard, with people really deceived as to where they were going — nobody really knew where they were going exactly,” Chacón told reporters. “I think it’s an opportunity to condense, if you will, instances of abuse that could be documented, and I think that’s what made those particular instances stand out, versus the number of buses that are arrived in Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago, in particular.

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