A Texas sheriff is the first to announce a criminal investigation into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ operation lying and making false promises to migrants in Texas to get them on a plane to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the migrants had been “lured under false pretenses,” and he’s looking into whether they were victims of a crime.
“I believe people need to be held accountable for it to the extent possible,” Salazar said at a Monday news conference. “At this point, I’m not able to definitively say here’s the statute that they broke, either federal, state or local, but what I can tell you is it’s wrong. Just from a human rights perspective, what was done to these folks is wrong.”
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Salazar is a Democrat, but it’s nonetheless surprising to see a Texas sheriff out in front of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey or the U.S. Department of Justice on this one. It’s well documented by now that the migrants were extensively lied to about what would be waiting for them when they landed, including being lied to about where they were going.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is representing the migrants, has formally requested both Healey and U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins to open criminal investigations.
“Our clients were induced to board airplanes and cross state lines under false pretenses,” the organization wrote in its letter to Rollins. “Individuals, working in concert with the Florida Governor, made numerous false promises to our clients, including of work opportunities, schooling for their children, and immigration assistance, in order to induce them to travel. It was only when the flight was in mid-air that they were informed they would be flown to Martha’s Vineyard, rather than to Boston as many had been told. Once the planes landed, those who had induced our clients to travel under these false pretenses disappeared, leaving our clients to learn that the offers of assistance had all been a ruse to exploit them for political purposes.”
This conduct deprived our clients of their liberty by deception. It interfered with their ability to comply with federal immigration obligations, such as attendance at hearings and check-ins. The perpetrators targeted our clients based on race and national origin in order to make the political point they wanted. They preyed on the vulnerability of our clients – many of whom had suffered deep trauma in their home countries and on their journeys to the United States – and exploited this vulnerability to win trust through false promises.
These actions were coordinated and orchestrated. Many of our clients were put up in hotels – paid for by those making the false representations – until flights could be coordinated and there were enough people to fill the planes. This type of conspiracy to deprive our clients of their liberty and civil rights and interfere with federal immigration proceedings must be thoroughly investigated for violations of criminal laws.
In Florida, there are also questions about whether DeSantis violated state law. While the Republican-controlled state legislature allocated $12 million to “facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law,” DeSantis had to go to Texas to get the migrants, then fly them briefly into Florida and back out. Additionally, many of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard are applying for asylum, which means they are not “unauthorized aliens.”
DeSantis did this to raise his profile among Republicans in preparation for a presidential run, because this is the kind of lawlessness and cruelty that Republican voters like to see. He also did it to distract from abortion in a year in which that issue is really, really bad for Republicans. He did not do it out of any actual concern about immigrants in Florida—for heaven’s sake, he had to go to Texas to find his victims. From a political standpoint, he may have gotten what he wanted. But he absolutely should face criminal investigation, and charges if the facts merit it.
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