Lawyers for the Venezuelan migrants flown last week from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard are asking a federal judge in Boston to bar Florida Governor Ron DeSantis from orchestrating any additional transports, as the tense political and legal clash with Republican-led states over immigration shows no sign of abating.
As part of its lawsuit filed in Boston against DeSantis and others involved in the relocation, Lawyers for Civil Rights is asking the court to stop the governor from sending migrants to any other state, which he has vowed to continue.
Jacob Love, a staff attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said an injunction in the Martha’s Vineyard case could dissuade other governors from transporting migrants out of their states.
“We are seeking a nationwide injunction to stop conduct that is similar to this, to the extent that other governors are thinking about adopting or co-opting a program like this that entails inducing immigrants to agree to travel under false pretenses across state lines,” he said.
“If we get an injunction against the defendants, it will make it much easier for other similarly situated plaintiffs to go into court elsewhere to get an injunction,” Love added.
DeSantis has vowed to spend “every penny” of the $12 million Florida lawmakers budgeted to relocate migrants. The campaign is intended to protest President Biden’s policy at the Mexican border, where arrests are at an all-time high, ahead of the midterm elections in November. Beginning in the spring, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey began busing thousands of migrants to New York City and Washington, D.C., saying their own communities are overwhelmed by the influx.
On Tuesday, speculation that DeSantis was sending more migrants to Delaware, Biden’s home state, caused aid groups and state officials to gather at a small airport in that state, but the plane that had scheduled the trip did not arrive as expected.
Ragini Shah, founder of the Immigration Clinic at Suffolk University Law School, said she expects the court will at least issue a preliminary injunction to stop the relocations temporarily.
“It is fairly clear . . . that [DeSantis] plans to continue to engage in similar behavior as what happened to these migrants from Venezuela,” Shah said. “Thus, I would think it is likely that a judge would at least temporarily stop DeSantis and others from continuing the program so that the court could examine evidence.”
The federal judge assigned to the case, Allison D. Burroughs, was involved in a significant immigration case in 2017 when she blocked an executive order by then-president Donald Trump that barred entry to the United States for refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Burroughs, a Massachusetts native nominated to the bench by former president Barack Obama in 2014, found Trump’s order violated their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection and would cause “irreparable harm.”
In its lawsuit, the lawyers group said DeSantis and other Florida officials concocted an illegal scheme to lure migrants from a center in San Antonio into relocating to Massachusetts with false promises of job opportunities and free housing.
Also Wednesday, lawyers for some of the migrants criticized the “consent forms” that DeSantis’ office said migrants signed to prove they boarded the planes willingly and were not duped into relocating. The governor’s office released a copy of the form Tuesday night. It contained a few short paragraphs in English and a Spanish translation below. The English section states they would be transported to “locations in sanctuary states,” and that the final destination of their flight was Massachusetts. But the Spanish translation makes no mention of the state.
Moreover, the form does not mention any work or housing opportunities awaiting the migrants, nor does it contain any identifying information about the sponsor of the trip, such as a letterhead or contact information.
DeSantis’ office did not return requests for comment Wednesday. But in a statement released Tuesday, the office said, “The transportation of the immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was done on a voluntary basis. The immigrants were homeless, hungry, and abandoned — and these activists didn’t care about them then. Florida’s program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these individuals opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts.”
But Espinoza-Madrigal said the absence of key information on the consent form is further evidence of how DeSantis misled the migrants. “They clearly show that material information about how the relocation would occur, where it would go, was not included in the forms, especially in the Spanish translation portion of the form.”
Rachel M. Self, an immigration lawyer who is representing some of the migrants, also noted that the consent form does not mention jobs, housing, and other aid, such as English classes, that the migrants said they were told would be waiting for them in Massachusetts.
“Considering that as valid, informed consent is ludicrous. Anyone can clearly see the entire English text is not translated into Spanish,” Self said. “Look at the vulnerable state of [the migrants] who get on buses under false pretenses to get on that plane. When in the history of all mankind has an individual who has induced a human being onto a mode of transport with false promises been good for the people in the transport?”
And Susan Church, a prominent immigration lawyer based in Cambridge, said the form provided by DeSantis’s office is “legally useless and invalid as it was induced by fraud, not fully translated, and obtained by deceit.”
“Why would they ask the immigrants to sign this unless they were concerned about their actions in the first place?” she said. “I have absolutely never seen anyone sign this type of form before.”
The migrants received emergency shelter and care on Martha’s Vineyard before they were transported to temporary housing on a military base on Cape Cod.
The lawsuit alleged that people working with the Florida officials approached migrants near the resource center in San Antonio and other locations, provided inducements such as $10 McDonald’s gift cards, and made false promises of jobs, housing, and educational opportunities to persuade them to board airplanes.
“It was a bait and switch, classic,” Self said. “There are serious consequences here because these were people and children and families.”
When the Venezuelans arrived on Martha’s Vineyard with no advance notice and no support services awaiting them, they tried to call the people in Texas who had persuaded them to get on the planes but were unable to reach them, documents show.
DeSantis has acknowledged that Florida was not receiving the numbers of migrants that states that border Mexico are experiencing. His office contended it recruited the migrants in Texas because they were planning to relocate to Florida anyway.
But in its complaint, Lawyers for Civil Rights said that by doing so, DeSantis and other officials interfered with US immigration law and prevented the migrants from following an orderly procedure to claim asylum in the United States, which includes periodic checks in with federal law and attending already-scheduled hearings on their cases.
“All of this indicates a deliberate and intentional interference in ongoing immigration matters to sabotage and derail our clients from complying with federal immigration law,” Espinoza-Madrigal said Wednesday.