A Texas sheriff will investigate flights arranged by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to transport dozens of Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, allegedly after they made false promises of jobs and other services.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office said it has opened an investigation into last week’s incident in which migrants were lured “by the Migrant Resource Center” in their county — which covers the greater San Antonio area — and headed to Florida and later to Martha’s Vineyard were flown. where they were “left to their own devices”.
“In addition, we are working with private attorneys representing victims and advocacy groups regarding this incident,” Sheriff Javier Salazar (D) said in a statement. “We are also preparing to work with any federal agency that has competing jurisdiction, as needed.”
DeSantis surprised federal and state officials on Wednesday by sending migrants who recently crossed the US-Mexico border to the wealthy resort island of Massachusetts. The move is part of an ongoing campaign by DeSantis and other Republican governors in Texas and Arizona to send migrants to Democratic-leaning cities like Washington, New York and Chicago to publicize the rising number of crossings this year at the southern border.
Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Florida said they were surprised when they arrived on the island on September 15. (Video: Reuters)
About 50 migrants — including men, women and children — boarded shuttle flights from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, with a brief stop in Florida. Many of them later told attorneys and immigration attorneys that they were promised jobs and other benefits if they traveled to Massachusetts. That was not the case.
“They were promised a solution to several of their problems,” Salazar said Monday. “As far as we know, they were taken to Martha’s Vineyard for little more than a photo op, a video op, and then they were unceremoniously stranded on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Requests for comment made to DeSantis’ communications office late in the day went unanswered.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he spoke with the sheriff about his decision to investigate.
“We thought early on that if they were lured under false pretenses, it could be a crime,” Wolff said. “If you think about what smugglers do, it’s not much different.”
He said it’s not clear if the recruiters could be linked to DeSantis, but “if it turns out something was done wrong, he could be held responsible. He instigated it.”
Democrats and pro-immigrants condemned the incident as a political stunt; The White House has criticized DeSantis and other Republican governors for “using migrants as political pawns” as “shameful…reckless and just plain wrong.”
“There is a procedure. And what they are doing is an illegal stunt, a political stunt,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week. “And it’s really just disrespectful to humanity.”
Jean-Pierre referred questions about whether the Biden administration would pursue legal action to the Justice Department.
Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Lori Rozsa, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, and Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.