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Migrants Tricked Into DeSantis Flight Scheme Qualify for Residency Visas

The migrants “are now able to legally work in the United States” and are protected from deportation, their lawyer said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held on April 1, 2024, in Miami, Florida.

Some of the dozens of migrants who were tricked by a scheme orchestrated by Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office into boarding an airplane in Florida and flying to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022 have been granted temporary visas due to the fact that they may have been victims of a crime.

DeSantis’s office coordinated two planes to fly the migrants (most of whom had come to the U.S. from Venezuela) from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Those who had recruited the migrants, around 50 in total, to fly on the planes had done so with false promises to them that jobs, shelter and food would be available upon their arrival.

Instead, the migrants were left with nothing. Volunteer groups helped them to find temporary housing in the short term after they made it to the community.

DeSantis’s office, which had spent around $615,000 in state-based funds authorized by the state legislature for the transporting of migrants in the state, was widely lampooned for the action, which was described as a political stunt meant to make him look tougher on immigration during his 2022 reelection campaign (and in the run-up to his failed presidential campaign). Some also suggested that he may have committed a crime — indeed, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has filed a criminal case with the county district attorney’s office, alleging “unlawful restraint” violations. No decision on the advancement of that case has been made as yet.

However, because of that filing, and with help from civil rights lawyers, some of the migrants were able to apply for what are called “U visas,” which grant temporary residency rights to immigrants who are “victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.”

Some of the migrants “are now able to legally work in the United States and have temporary protections from deportation — because they are considered victims of a potential crime,” said Rachel Self, an attorney for the migrants, who spoke to The Miami Herald about the update on their statuses.

It’s not clear how many of the approximately 50 migrants who were victims of the DeSantis-orchestrated scheme have received these visas, but those who have them will be allowed to live and work in the U.S. potentially for several years while the investigations are ongoing. Many U visa recipients are also eventually granted permanent residency protections.

Some of the migrants who were part of the flights have also sued DeSantis and his allies, as well as the airline, Vertol, that was part of the scheme, alleging that their civil rights were violated. That suit describes the actions taken by DeSantis and his allies as a “premeditated, fraudulent and illegal scheme” meant to advance the “personal, financial and political interests” of the governor.

“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 added.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Boston said the lawsuit had met the legal standards to move forward. The judge removed DeSantis from the lawsuit, which places Vertol as the central focus of the litigation, but did so “without prejudice,” which means, as the lawsuit progresses and more evidence is presented, there is a possibility of having the Florida governor brought back into it later on.