An attorneys group that says it represents more than 30 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard last week called on state and federal prosecutors on Saturday to open criminal investigations into the relocations.
Lawyers for Civil Rights sent letters to the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts and the state’s attorney general alleging the flights, organized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), deprived the migrants’s liberty through deception, arguing they boarded the planes and cross state lines under false pretenses.
“While we are working to protect our clients’ rights in immigration proceedings and exploring remedies for civil rights violations, we also strongly believe that criminal laws were broken by the perpetrators of this stunt,” both letters state. “We therefore ask that you open a criminal investigation into this matter.”
The letters were signed by Lawyers for Civil Rights’s executive director, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, and the group’s litigation director, Oren Sellstrom.
DeSantis organized two flights with nearly 50 migrants that landed in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, the latest Republican governor to relocate migrants in protest of President Biden’s immigration policies. The migrants have since been moved to Joint Base Cape Cod.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has sent thousands of migrants to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago in recent months, while Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has bused nearly 2,000 migrants to D.C.
Espinoza-Madrigal and Sellstrom alleged in the letters that individuals working with DeSantis’s office made false promises to the migrants, including work opportunities, schooling and immigration assistance, calling the relocations a “shameful political stunt.”
The letters allege many had been instructed they were traveling to Boston only to be told they were going to Martha’s Vineyard once the flight was in mid-air. Some are missing their immigration hearings and check-ins, according to the letter.
“The perpetrators targeted our clients based on race and national origin in order to make the political point they wanted,” Espinoza-Madrigal and Sellstrom wrote. “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.”
The Hill has reached out to DeSantis’s office for comment.
Massachusetts state Sen. Julian Cyr (D), who represents Martha’s Vineyard, told The Hill last week that the migrants were approached by a woman named “Perla” who misled them into boarding the flights.
“These actions were coordinated and orchestrated,” the letters state. “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.”