Groups of Venezuelan migrants wait outside the Migrant Resource Center to receive food from San Antonio Catholic Charities on September 19, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.
Jordan Vonderhaar | Getty Images News | Getty Images
A Texas sheriff said Monday that his office has opened a criminal investigation into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ unprecedented move to send nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last week.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the investigation was in its early stages and declined to name possible suspects. But at a news conference, he said: “Everybody on this call already knows who these names are.”
Salazar said it was unclear if any laws had been broken, but said it appeared 48 migrants had been “lured under false pretenses” to stay in a hotel for a couple of days before being flown to Florida and Martha’s Vineyard.
“They were promised jobs,” he said. “They were promised the solution to several of their problems.”
He said a recruiter was paid a “bird dog fee” to gather about 50 people around a migrant resource center in San Antonio.
Asylum seekers, mostly Venezuelans, were flown to the posh Massachusetts island “for little more than a photo shoot or a video shoot, and were unceremoniously stranded on Martha’s Vineyard,” Salazar said .
Salazar said his office’s organized crime investigators would handle the investigation.
Immigration lawyers and advocates called for a criminal investigation into DeSantis’ effort to move migrants into a $12 million program aimed at moving “unauthorized aliens” to what his administration has described as “sanctuary” jurisdictions. “.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night. His administration has previously denied breaking any laws with the program, and at a news conference Friday, DeSantis said he would “spend every penny” he could on it.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the person who cheated the migrants. “Wanted” posters have gone up in Sant Antoni.
“It’s one of the cruelest political stunts I’ve seen in my life,” said LULAC president Domingo García.
Garcia said LULAC has spoken with several asylum seekers who said a woman named “Perla” told them they were going to Boston and promised them three months of work and free housing.
Garcia, who spoke to about a dozen migrants on Martha’s Vineyard last week, said Monday that “Perla” gave them a map with an “X” marking a refugee center, which turned out to be an empty parking lot.
Attorneys representing 30 of the 48 migrants have asked the Massachusetts attorney general and the federal government to open criminal investigations. They said their clients “were induced to board planes and cross state lines under false pretenses.”
Immigration advocates, as well as Democrats and the Biden administration, say transporting migrants is dehumanizing and accuse Republicans of using people for political tricks as demands for a criminal investigation grow.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, he tweeted that “the Department of Justice needs to investigate Governor DeSantis for using fraud and deception to lure people out of state only to abandon them without fulfilling his false promises. Same for Greg Abbott. They are involved in the human trafficking”.
Since April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has bused migrants released from federal immigration custody to Washington, DC, New York and Chicago. He accuses President Joe Biden of being too lax on immigration. A month later, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, also began transporting migrants to Washington, DC.
DeSantis sent two planes carrying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday.
The Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide coalition of more than 65 organizations, is investigating whether federal funds were misused when DeSantis sent the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and whether there is scope for litigation.
“We’re disgusted,” said co-executive director Tessa Petit. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Many of the migrants are asylum seekers who have fled socialist countries, such as Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, where daily life has become difficult under authoritarian regimes.