Lawyers representing Venezuelan immigrants and refugees allegedly tricked into flying to wealthy Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts have filed a class civil rights lawsuit against the Florida governor and other state officials.
Boston-based legal advocacy group Civil Rights Lawyers (LCR) filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging what it called a “fraudulent and discriminatory” scheme to charter flights to transport nearly 50 vulnerable people, including children as young as two, last week. From San Antonio, Texas, via Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, there was no contact to arrange housing and other resources.
The two charter flights cost about $615,000 — $12,300 each — in taxpayer dollars, according to legal documents.
The civil rights lawsuit is against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; Florida Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and their unidentified associates – who allegedly helped find and lure asylum seekers onboard.
“No one should be used as a political pawn in this country’s highly polarized debate about immigration,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the LCR, which is providing pro bono legal aid and accompanying immigrants to Cape Cod military base. As a refuge.
The lawsuit seeks to stop Florida Republican officials from defrauding immigrants and refugees across state lines — and to pay at least $75,000 each for injuries suffered.
The plaintiffs include the woman, identified in the documents as Yolanda Doe, who boarded the plane with her husband and 11-year-old son and other Venezuelans, and Alianza Americas, a national network of grassroots organizations that support refugees and immigrants.
According to the complaint, seen by the Guardian, the Venezuelan plaintiffs “fleeed to the United States to desperately protect themselves and their families from gang, police and state-sponsored violence and oppression by political dissent.”
It continued: “On or around September 2022, the defendants and their unidentified associates devised and executed a premeditated, fraudulent and illegal scheme centered on exploiting this vulnerability for the sole purpose of advance their own personal, financial and political interests.”
According to legal filings, the plan includes finding vulnerable people by “trolling the streets around Texas immigrant shelters … pretending to be well-wishers delivering humanitarian aid.” It said they were given $10 McDonald’s gift certificates and lured out of the shelter to a hotel with the promise of jobs, housing and education if they boarded a plane to another state. They stayed at the “free” hotel until enough people gathered to fill the plane.
On the day of the flight, Venezuelans were wrongly told they would be flying to Boston or Washington, D.C., the complaint said. The plane takes off from the private airstrip. Just before landing, Venezuelans were given a shiny red folder with other official-looking materials, including a pamphlet called “Massachusetts Refugee Benefits.” The booklet was allegedly produced by the defendants — not an official Massachusetts agency or immigration agency.
The booklet echoed false pre-flight promises, including the following statement: “For the first 90 days after refugees arrive in Massachusetts, resettlement agencies provide basic needs support, including … housing assistance … furniture, food and other Basic necessities…clothing, and transportation to interviews and job training.”
There was no food or shelter when they disembarked at Martha’s Vineyard. No one on the island or anywhere in Massachusetts knew they were coming, the lawsuit said. The accused, who was on the plane, allegedly disappeared and stopped taking calls.
The next day, DeSantis claimed responsibility for the scheme.
The Martha’s Vineyard case is part of a series of legally and ethically contentious moves by Republican governors in southern border states to transport immigrants and asylum seekers to so-called liberal cities to get Biden ahead of the midterm elections Embarrassed by the government.
The governors of Texas, Arizona and Florida say they’re protesting what they say is the federal government’s failure to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and that they’ve spent millions of taxpayer dollars — including allocating Covid-19 -19 Funding for Relief – In recent months, thousands of migrants and refugees have been transported to Washington, New York and Chicago.
The tactic, condemned by the White House, Democratic officials, immigration lawyers and rights groups, has created further stress and unrest for many immigrants and refugees, who often try to reunite relatives in court while processing their legal asylum claims .
According to the complaint, Venezuelans seeking proper avenues for legal immigration status in the U.S. “experienced acts of cruelty similar to those they fled in their home country. Defendants manipulated them to rob them of their dignity, their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process, and equality. legal protections and unlawfully interfere with the federal government’s exclusive control of immigration to further unlawful goals and personal political agendas.”
“This cowardly political stunt puts our clients at risk. Many laws are blatantly violated to ensure media headlines,” said Oren Sellstrom, LRC’s director of litigation.
Millions of Venezuelans have fled the once prosperous South American country amid an unprecedented exodus from the country’s economic and political crisis.According to Amnesty International, “Human rights violations, including politically motivated arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial killings and excessive use of force, are systematic and widespread [in Venezuela]”.