Sep 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Migrants sent to Martha's Vineyard promised cash and job help

A Venezuelan migrant boards a vehicle outside of St. Andrew's Parish House in Martha's Vineyard on Sept. 16.

A Venezuelan migrant outside St. Andrew's Parish House on Martha's Vineyard on Sept. 16. Photo: Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Some of the Venezuelan migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were given misleading brochures promising "up to 8 months of cash assistance," employment services and housing assistance, their lawyers tell Axios.

What's happening: Lawyers for Civil Rights shared a brochure, titled "Massachusetts Refugee Benefits," on Monday that they say migrants were given "at some point during their expulsion and relocation from Texas and Florida" last week.

  • The brochure lists support available under "the Match Grant Program." Axios found that language in the leaflet mimics Massachusetts' description of the Matching Grant Program, through which the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement partners with local agencies in 43 states to resettle refugees.
  • An immigration attorney told independent journalist Judd Legum that benefits described in the brochure are available to refugees who are referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and authorized to live in the U.S. — but not to these migrants, who are still seeking asylum.

What they're saying: Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, told Axios that he doesn't know who made or distributed the brochure, but his organization is among several that have asked for a criminal investigation.

  • Sellstrom added that such an action could potentially lead to charges against DeSantis, who has taken responsibility for transporting the migrants and promised "a lot more."
  • "Ron DeSantis has publicly taken credit for this conduct. So the criminal liability may extend to the very highest level, certainly," Sellstrom said.

The latest: The Bexar County Sheriff's Office in Texas announced a criminal investigation Monday into the transportation of migrants from the county, which includes San Antonio, to Martha's Vineyard, where the office says they were "ultimately left to fend for themselves."

DeSantis' communications director, Taryn Fenske, told Axios that "immigrants have been more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless and 'left to fend for themselves.'"

  • "Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected," Fenske added.
  • "Unless the MA national guard has abandoned these individuals, they have been provided accommodations, sustenance, clothing and more options to succeed following their unfair enticement into the United States, unlike the 53 immigrants who died in a truck found abandoned in Bexar County this June."

Between the lines: Politico reports that ​​the legality of DeSantis' maneuver "falls into a major gray area."

  • "There is absolutely the possibility of both civil and criminal liability if people were lied to about where they were going, what they were going to get when they got there," Susan Church, an immigration lawyer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Politico.
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