Three of the roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard last week are suing Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, alleging that he deceived them with promises of food, shelter and job security and that his actions violated their rights.
Last week, DeSantis and other Florida officials coordinated a flight of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The migrants were coerced into boarding the chartered plane by scouts at a migrant resource center, who assured them they would have jobs and shelter waiting for them in Washington D.C. or Boston upon arrival.
When the flight landed, however, migrants quickly discovered that jobs and shelter had not been arranged for them. Although DeSantis hadn’t warned Martha’s Vineyard residents that the flight would be arriving, community members rushed to help the migrants, providing them with food and shelter until they were relocated to a facility with further resources.
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Three of those migrants are suing DeSantis and other officials, claiming that the stunt caused “economic, emotional, and constitutional harms” to them and their families, including their children.
“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 states.
The actions by the Florida governor and others were a “premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting” the migrants’ vulnerabilities to advance the “personal, financial and political interests” of DeSantis and his allies, the suit alleges.
DeSantis and the other defendants named in the lawsuit “manipulated [migrants], stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process, and equal protection under law, and impermissibly interfered with the Federal Government’s exclusive control over immigration in furtherance of an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda,” the suit adds.
The lawsuit states that the migrants’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and their 14th Amendment due process rights were violated.
Officials representing DeSantis claim that consent forms signed by the migrants free him of any liability for harms they may have experienced. Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for the governor, described the lawsuit as “political theater.”
The consent forms, which were released publicly by DeSantis, showcase that the governor’s defense may not hold up in court, however. The version of the form shared by journalist Judd Legum on Twitter includes three paragraphs in English, but only two of the paragraphs are translated into Spanish. The paragraph that wasn’t translated into Spanish includes information on the migrants’ final destination, but still only specifies that they would be going to “Massachusetts.”
The migrants’ lawsuit also acknowledges that they were given consent forms, but claims they were rushed into signing them and that they weren’t provided with proper translation services.
“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,” said lawyer Tristan Snell on Twitter.