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Martha’s Vineyard DA Calls on Merrick Garland to Investigate Ron DeSantis

Dozens of migrants were tricked onto planes last year with false promises of food and shelter upon arrival.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks with attendees at the 2022 Student Action Summit at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on July 22, 2022.

The district attorney who represents the island of Martha’s Vineyard has sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for an investigation into Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s anti-migrant stunt last year.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Robert Galibois announced last week that he was initiating his own investigation into DeSantis’s decision to charter two planes to transfer migrants seeking asylum in Texas to Massachusetts under false pretenses. The migrants had been deceived into believing they would be met with jobs, shelter and resources upon their arrival— instead, they were brought to Martha’s Vineyard in an act that many observers denounced as “cruel political theater.”

The action came around the same time that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) similarly transferred migrants to Democratic-controlled jurisdictions with hopes to embarrass leaders in those places.

When the planes arrived at Martha’s Vineyard, residents volunteered to aid the migrants, some of whom were children, providing them food and shelter until a longer-term solution could be provided.

“I am conscious of my obligation to investigate any potentially criminal activity that occurs within my jurisdiction,” Galibois said last week, regarding his own investigation. “[I] am aware that immigrants were tricked and fooled into boarding planes that ultimately landed in Martha’s Vineyard, a part of my jurisdiction.”

In an open letter to Garland this week, Galibois requested that a federal inquiry be opened as well.

“Publicly reported information indicates that said enterprise was hatched in Florida, launched in Texas, briefly appeared in South Carolina and North Carolina, and concluded in Massachusetts on the island of Martha’s Vineyard,” Galibois said. “Related communications in electronic and documentary form are suggested to exist in each of the foregoing states. My office posits that, due to the interstate transportation of these migrants, this alleged scheme remains available for federal prosecution.”

Galibois’s letter also alluded to demands made last year for an investigation to be opened at the federal level by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), California Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Sheriff Javier Salazar of Bexar County, Texas, who wrote a joint letter to Garland saying that it was “unconscionable” for DeSantis and Abbott “to use people as political props by persuading them to travel to another state based on false or deceptive representations.”

“Like my colleagues, I stand ready to cooperate with the Department of Justice, provide and share any information about these flights and schemes, and look forward to working with the Department on this issue,” Galibois said in his letter.

Federal lawmakers have also called for an investigation into DeSantis. Last fall, Democratic members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation — U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, as well as House Reps. Jake Auchincloss, Bill Keating, Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, and Lori Trahan — requested that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) within the Treasury Department determine whether Florida improperly used funds from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) “to cruelly relocate vulnerable immigrants from Florida to other states across the country.”

Some of the migrants have also filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, alleging that he violated their rights by transferring them from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on short notice and under false pretenses.

“These immigrants, who are pursuing the proper channels for lawful immigration status in the United States, experienced cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country,” the lawsuit alleges.

Some DeSantis defenders have claimed that the migrants, who signed a waiver for travel, cannot sue the Florida governor. But that argument doesn’t hold legal weight because DeSantis and his allies lied to migrants about their destination.

“DeSantis may have gotten the immigrants to sign consent forms — but if there was fraud (and it sounds like there was), then any purported contract was and is void,” lawyer and political commentator Tristan Snell said at the time.

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