Legal group files class action lawsuit on behalf of advocacy group and migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard

By Amir Vera, Rob Frehse and Zenebou Sylla, CNN

Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group that represents more than 30 of nearly 50 migrants airlifted to Martha’s Vineyardfiled a class action lawsuit on behalf of Alianza Americas and other migrants, according to a Press release organisation.

Two planes carrying nearly 50 migrants – mostly from Venezuela – arrived at Martha’s Vineyard from Texas last Wednesday evening under arrangements made by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The move was part of a series of initiatives by Republican governors to ferry migrants to Liberal towns to protest what they described as the federal government’s failure to secure the southern border.

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 statement and the lawsuit itself. The suit, in part, said the defendants defrauded vulnerable immigrants to advance a political motive for chartering two flights carrying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

“No human being should be used as a political pawn in the highly polarized national debate on immigration,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.

The lawsuit alleges that several dozen migrants were rounded up by a woman to ‘sign a document to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card’ and that she ‘did not explain what the document said, and he didn’t was not fully translated into Spanish: an entire paragraph on liability and transportation was not translated at all, and the language specifying that the trip would be from Texas to Massachusetts was also not translated at all .

One of the plaintiffs in the case, according to court documents, was told by unidentified individuals that “when they first met, leaving Texas, he would be granted permanent housing, a stable employment and help with the immigration process”.

Oscar Chacòn, executive director of Alianza Americas, called DeSantis’ flights to Martha’s Vineyard “morally despicable.” Alianza Americas is a network of migrant-led organizations that support immigrants across the United States.

“That is why we have taken steps to legally challenge what we consider not only a morally wrong action, but also what we believe to be illegal,” Chacòn said in a statement. “We want to do everything we can to prevent further abuse against newly arrived immigrants, especially asylum seekers who deserve support, protection and recognition for the incredible contributions they make to states. States, as well as to their relatives in their home countries.”

In response to the lawsuit, DeSantis’ office repeated what had previously been said: the transportation of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard “was done on a voluntary basis.”

“The immigrants were homeless, starving and abandoned – and these activists didn’t care about them back then. The Florida program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these individuals chose to take advantage of charter flights to Massachusetts,” the statement said.

DeSantis’ office also released a copy of what they call an “Official Transportation Consent Form” which includes a redacted signature of someone they claim is a migrant who consented to their flight to Martha’s Vineyard.

Texas sheriff to open investigation into Martha’s Vineyard incident

Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar told reporters Monday evening that his agency would open an investigation into the transportation of 48 Venezuelan migrants from the state to Martha’s Vineyard.

Salazar, a Democrat, said Monday he understood a Venezuelan migrant was paid last Wednesday to recruit 50 migrants at a resource center in San Antonio, the county seat of Bexar County. As such, Salazar said he believes the laws were broken not only on the county, but also on the federal side.

The migrants were flown to Florida and then to Martha’s Vineyard under “false pretenses”, he said.

The sheriff said they were flown to Martha’s Vineyard for “a photo op and stranded”. He believes the migrants have been “exploited and tricked” into making the journey for political purposes. The sheriff spoke with an attorney who represents some of the migrants for first-hand accounts of what happened, Salazar told reporters.

The allegations he has heard so far are “disgusting and constitute a violation of human rights”, he said. Salazar said he believed there was accountability for what happened.

DeSantis, who claimed credit for organizing the robbery of the migrants, told Fox News Monday night that the migrants were not misled.

“They all signed consent forms to go, and then the vendor that does it for Florida gave them a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard in it, it had numbers for the various services that were on Martha’s Vineyard,” said said DeSantis.

“Why wouldn’t they want to go, given where they were?” They were in very, very bad shape and they needed to be cleaned, everything, well treated,” he said.

The Florida Department of Transportation paid $1.565 million to Vertol Systems, a Destin-based airline under the state’s migrant relocation program, according to state budget records.

A payment of $615,000 was made on September 8 and a payment of $950,000 was requested by the state on September 16, according to budget records.

The budget records do not detail the type of “contract services” Vertol provided to the ministry, nor is it clear whether the two payments were for two flights to Martha’s Vineyard that were flown and operated by Ultimate Jet. Charters, a separate Ohio-based private jet company.

Delaware prepares for possible migrant arrivals

Reports and flight plans suggested a plane chartered to take migrants to Martha’s Vineyard was on the way bring a group of migrants to Delawareprompting state officials and volunteers to prepare on Tuesday.

The preparations came after flight tracking sites overnight posted a flight plan filed with a commercial planner and the Federal Aviation Administration involving one of the Ultimate Jet charter planes which was used in the flights. Martha’s Vineyard and looked like this flight. The sites indicated a route from Kelly Field in San Antonio to a brief stop in Crestview, Florida and then Georgetown, Delaware.

Salazar, the Texas sheriff, said Wednesday he was told to expect another robbery on Tuesday, but plans have been changed.

“We learned this morning that a flight would arrive in San Antonio and depart with a plane loaded with migrants to Delaware,” he told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Tuesday. “I understand that at the last minute we learned that the flight had been postponed.”

Salazar said they were not given a reason for the flight to be postponed.

Jill Fredel, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services, told a news conference on Tuesday that they had no reports of any migrant arrivals at this time. She said the governor’s office hasn’t received any outreach from Florida or Texas, but noted the state is putting preparations in place just in case.

Governor John Carney’s office also heard of the reports and officials were working to prepare in case migrants arrived unannounced, according to the governor’s spokeswoman Emily David Hershman.

“We are coordinating with federal authorities and stand ready to welcome these families in an orderly fashion as they pursue their asylum claims,” ​​she said.

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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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