Texas sheriff launches inquiry into migrant flights to Martha's Vineyard backed by Florida Gov. DeSantis
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Texas law enforcement authorities said Monday that they are opening an investigation into how 48 Venezuelan migrants were “lured” last week to board flights from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha‘s Vineyard under a plan orchestrated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for “nothing more … than a photo op.”
“Our understanding is that a Venezuelan migrant was paid what we would call a bird dog fee to recruit approximately 50 migrants from the area around a migrant Resource Center … in San Antonio,” Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar told reporters.
“As we understand it, 48 migrants were lured – I will use the word 'lured' – under false pretenses into staying at a hotel for a couple of days,” said Salazar, who said the migrants were then taken by plane at a certain point and flown to Florida before continuing to Massachusetts.
Salazar, an elected Democrat from south Texas, said the migrants were taken out of Texas to Martha’s Vineyard “under false pretenses,” and they were “promised work (and) promised the solution to several of their problems.”
“They were taken to Martha's Vineyard from what what we can gather for nothing more, for little more than a photo op, video op, and then they were unceremoniously stranded in Martha's Vineyard,” Salazar said.
Florida’s Republican governor has told reporters that he plans to continue paying to transport migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to keep them from settling in Florida and sending them to “sanctuary cities" around the country. He also said he wants to call attention to the Biden administration’s “reckless” border security policies.
Last Wednesday, without informing local officials in Texas or Massachusetts, DeSantis ordered the state to shuttle the migrants aboard two chartered planes from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.
“I got $12 million to use, so we are going to use it,” he said. “Because I think people want to see that we're actually standing up and trying to protect the state against (President) Biden’s really, really reckless policies.”
The $12 million refers to money the Florida Legislature approved this year to pay for relocating undocumented immigrants in Florida.
“We want to make sure that (Florida) taxpayers are not having tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people coming in illegally,” he said.
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DeSantis: Plan took shape in 2021
The White House has criticized DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, for their “political stunt” and for using migrants as “political pawns.” It said that its new aggressive campaign against human smugglers had netted thousands of arrests in recent months and that border patrol agents “removed or expelled” more people than any year before.
DeSantis said his plan took shape last year when he visited the U.S.-Mexico border to help Abbott deal with illegal border crossings.
DeSantis said he and his staff learned that 40% of migrants apprehended at the border expressed a desire to move to Florida. The governor said it was more effective to intercept migrants at the border than it was to track them down when they arrived in Florida as individuals or in small groups.
“If they get in a car with two other people, there's no way we're going to be able to detect that,” DeSantis said.
So, DeSantis said, they hired a contractor to identify migrants likely headed to Florida and offer free transportation to “sanctuary jurisdictions.”
“And so they went from Texas to Florida to Martha's Vineyard in the flight,” DeSantis said.
'I simply feel misled'
Several Venezuelans who landed in Martha’s Vineyard told their immigration attorneys and journalists that they had been promised jobs and housing if they boarded the flights. They were not told they were going to New England.
One Venezuelan, Pedro Luis Torrelaba, 36, said he was promised work, food and housing and thought he was going to New York.
“I am not a victim,” he said. “I simply feel misled because they told a lie and it has come to nothing.”
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Washington-based civil rights group, said the migrants were given red folders with fake documents promising jobs and housing.
"It was all just a terrible lie," Garcia said, adding that he plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
FOLLOW THE FLIGHT:Florida Gov. DeSantis flew 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard
EL PASO VENEZUELAN MIGRANTS:El Paso County, city weigh options to stem humanitarian crisis as migration swells
DeSantis said none were misled or misguided when approached by the contractor in Texas who was hired to “profile” those migrants most likely to want to travel to Florida. He rejected claims of critics that the Venezuelan migrants were kept in the dark about their final destination.
The contractor gave migrants a release form to sign, along with a packet that included a map of Martha's Vineyard, said DeSantis, who said it was “all voluntary.”
“It's obvious that's where they were going," he said, adding that the migrants were treated “well with meals and everything” for their trip to Martha’s Vineyard.
“Our view is you’ve got to deal with it at the source and, if they're intending to come to Florida, and many of them are intending to come to Florida, (this is) our best way to make sure that they end up in a sanctuary jurisdiction.”
DeSantis said Florida now has the “infrastructure in place” to steer future migrants from Florida to “sanctuary cities.”
“There needs to be accountability," he said.
Sergio Bustos is Enterprise/Politics Editor for Florida's Gannett/USA Today Network. He's based in South Florida. Email: email@example.com