A Texas sheriff has said that vulnerable migrants lured to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were victims of potential crime, and has certified certain documentation that could ultimately help them qualify for humanitarian visas.
“Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said Thursday he had filed certification forms that immigration lawyers say can be used to obtain visas reserved for crime victims or people who witness certain crimes,” NBC News reports. Salazar, who was the first to announce a probe into the political stunt, said the department was “investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” noting claims by migrants that they were “transported from Bexar County under false pretenses.”
Because of a low annual U visa cap and an immense backlog, it could be years before victims win permanent relief should they be approved. But the fact is that DeSantis, who targeted these children and adults as part of his 2024 presidential ambitions, may have ensured they can stay here.
RELATED STORY: Texas sheriff beats Justice Department and Massachusetts AG to investigating DeSantis' migrant stunt
WGHB further reports that Salazar quickly approved the certifications. “Getting a certification often takes over a year, so it’s unusual that Salazar turned them around so quickly after the September flights,” the report said. Boston-based immigration attorney Rachel Self represents a number of the victims and has been helping coordinate interviews and paperwork, NBC News said. "No matter what your political beliefs are, these people are all crime victims,” Self said.
Some migrants described how a recruiter later identified as former combat medic and counterintelligence agent Perla Huerta lured them with false promises of assistance, including convincing some to sign forms they didn’t understand in exchange for $10 McDonald’s gift cards. The New York Times reported one startling image of migrants being preyed on at a supermarket near a migrant shelter. “He had told her he was searching for work, and she made him an offer he found hard to resist,” the report said.
“The U nonimmigrant status (U visa) is set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity,” including trafficking of noncitizens, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said. Due to the backlog, a wait for a work permit while U visa cases are pending has bloated from 11 months in fiscal year 2015 to at least five years, The New York Times reported last year. The Biden administration announced policy to expand access to permits.
”DeSantis and other top Republicans have raised doubts about whether the migrants, and hundreds of thousands of others like them coming over the nation’s southern border, have valid claims to stay in the United States,” Miami Herald reported. But like Ron DeSantis would say anyone has a legitimate claim. He might just upset his rabid base. Republicans have also widely dismissed the asylum process itself as a “loophole” and “fraud.”
“These certifications will ensure that the migrants can continue to help our law enforcement officials, and that they will be able to process and heal from the incredibly traumatic experiences they have suffered as a result of the cruel, heartless acts committed against them,” Self continued in the statement reported by NBC News. Susan Church, another attorney representing DeSantis’ victims, told NBC News it would be “very difficult to attempt to remove them while their U visa is pending.”
“The irony of DeSantis’ cruel trick that was played on these individuals is not only are many of them now eligible for a green card through this process, but they’ve been shipped into a jurisdiction where they probably can't even be removed while that application is pending,” Church continued. The Biden administration can also simply choose to not deport these victims.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by a government watchdog this week is asking a federal court to force DeSantis to follow state law and release public documents related to his political stunt. While Florida Center for Government Accountability said it has submitted numerous requests for documents to the governor’s office, defendants “failed to produce a single record that is responsive” to that request, or a subsequent request, as of filing time.
Public records lawsuit asks court to force DeSantis to hand over documents related to migrant stunt
Treasury watchdog probing whether DeSantis misused federal pandemic funds to help aid stunt
Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are taking a page straight out of the White Citizens Council playbook