Updated Sep 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard file class action lawsuit against DeSantis

Photo of migrants huddled on the street

A group of migrants huddles on a sidewalk in front of St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. Two planes with migrants from Venezuela aboard arrived suddenly Wednesday night on the island. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The undocumented migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard last week filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida officials.

Driving the news: The migrants allege in the complaint that they were given misleading information promising cash assistance, employment services and housing assistance, which they called "bold-faced lies."

  • The nearly 50 migrants, mostly Venezuelan, said they were told they were headed to Boston and Washington, D.C., according to the complaint.
  • They allege Florida officials "manufactured" an "official-looking brochure" using language from the Massachusetts Refugee Resettlement Program in order to "buttress their false oral representations ... in furtherance of the conspiracy."
  • They escaped a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela only for DeSantis to use them as "pawns in a political stunt," the complaint states.
  • The migrants, who are being represented by Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, say they "suffered economic, emotional, and constitutional harms" that amount to a minimum of $75,000. They're also asking the federal court to block DeSantis from repeating his actions.

What else they're saying: The complaint argues that the Florida officials' conduct discriminates "on the basis of alienage" and deprives them of the equal protection of laws under the 14th Amendment.

  • Florida officials have "intentionally targeted only individuals who are non-white and born outside the United States," they allege.
  • "Defendants' actions not only offend all notions of fairness, but they also stripped Plaintiffs of their basic human dignity, in violation of due process."

The other side: "It is opportunistic that activists would use illegal immigrants for political theater," said Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, in a statement to Axios.

  • "If these activists spent even a fraction of this time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration’s reckless border policies that entice illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often lethal journeys through Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and Coyotes."
  • Fenske, who attached a redacted consent form for the flight, said it was a voluntary program that gave the "homeless, hungry, and abandoned" immigrants a "fresh start in a sanctuary state."

The big picture: Lawyers for the migrants have asked the Massachusetts attorney general and the federal government to open criminal investigations in response to the transports, which have elicited strong reactions on both sides of the aisle.

Worth noting: American border officials have had over 2 million encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border so far this fiscal year — setting a new record after sustained surges in migration.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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