Updated Sep 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Lawyers for Martha's Vineyard migrants urge Feds to open criminal probe

Rafael Eduardo, an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela, hugging another immigrant outside of Saint Andrews Episcopal Church on Martha's Vineyard on Sept. 15.

Rafael Eduardo, an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela, hugs another immigrant outside of St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Martha's Vineyard on Sept. 15. Photo: Dominic Chavez for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Lawyers representing around 30 immigrants recently flown to Martha's Vineyard from Texas asked the Massachusetts attorney general and the federal government in letters Saturday to open criminal investigations into what they described as a "political stunt."

Why it matters: The lawyers said their clients "were induced to board airplanes and cross state lines under false pretenses," including promises of working opportunities, schooling for their children and immigration assistance, by people working with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

  • Nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants in total were dropped off in Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island, and have since been relocated to Joint Base Cape Cod, which had vacant housing and access to social services.
  • Thirty of those immigrants are being represented by attorneys from Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based organization that provides free legal support for communities of color and immigrants across Massachusetts.

What they're saying: "It was only when the flight was in mid-air that they were informed they would be flown to Martha’s Vineyard, rather than to Boston as many had been told," Lawyers for Civil Rights said in the letters to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Rachael Rollins, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

  • "Once the planes landed, those who had induced our clients to travel under these false pretenses disappeared, leaving our clients to learn that the offers of assistance had all been a ruse to exploit them for political purposes," the organization added.
  • Rollins told the Boston Globe on Friday that her office is looking at "any and all legal action that we might be able to take" in response to the flights.

DeSantis took credit for organizing the flights and promised to continue relocating more migrants to predominantly Democrat-run cities.

  • "If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state, and it's better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction and, yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures," he said at an event Thursday.
  • Massachusetts isn't officially a sanctuary state but has eight cities that identify as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants — the nearest from Martha’s Vineyard being Boston, which is around 100 miles north, according to NBC Boston.

The big picture: DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) have so far transported over 10,000 migrants to Democratic-led cities, such as New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., to protest the Biden administration's border policies, which they claim are too lax.

  • Cabinet heads and White House officials met Friday morning to in part discuss "litigation options" to respond to the governors transporting unauthorized immigrants and asylum seekers to other parts of the country, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

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