Attorneys for migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard looking into origination of brochures they believe were handed out under ‘false pretenses’


Lawyers for many of the nearly 50 migrants who unexpectedly landed in Martha’s Vineyard said Monday that brochures given to their clients were “highly misleading” and “were used to trick (their) clients into going under the to travel under the guise that (relocation) assistance would be available to them.”

The brochure lists refugee services, including cash and housing assistance, clothing, transportation to job interviews, job training, and help enrolling children in school, among other resources.

A Venezuelan migrant, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity for fear of negative repercussions on his immigration case, shared images of the pamphlet. They said the migrants were told the pamphlet contained information about the help they would receive in Massachusetts, but were not told about the differences in refugee and asylum seeker programs.

In many cases, migrants are asylum seekers, not refugees. Refugees apply for protection abroad and are admitted through the refugee admissions program, while asylum seekers apply within the United States.

The asylum seekers, who local officials believe were from Venezuela, arrived in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, flying in from Texas following arrangements by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, who is running for re-election this year, said he wanted to draw attention to the border crisis. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — another Republican with a re-election bid — has been bringing thousands of migrants to New York and Washington, D.C., all summer to also emphasize his criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

DeSantis’ move has been harshly criticized by the White House, Democratic officials and immigration attorneys, who say the migrants were misled about their ultimate destination.

In a news conference Friday, DeSantis said all had signed the waivers and knew where they were going. “It’s obvious that they wanted to go there,” he said, adding, “It’s all voluntary.”

The pamphlet, which has now been posted online by the rights group representing many of the cases, includes a photo of a street sign that reads “Massachusetts Welcomes You” and a photo of a nondescript lighthouse. It also provides a brief summary of what resettlement agencies can do for refugees, in both English and Spanish.

The pamphlet also lists the phone number of the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, which told CNN that this was not a document released by their office.

The leaflet has been put online by the legal group representing many of the cases.

The front features a picture of the state of Massachusetts and a list of charitable organizations in Martha’s Vineyard and at least one in Cape Cod.

The list includes the number for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services – which eventually took in the migrants and helped them find initial shelter at a church on the island.

Oren Sellstrom, the litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, who represents many of the migrants, said his clients left Texas expecting whatever the brochure advertised would be waiting for them once they landed.

Lawyers are investigating the origin of the leaflets, when they were given to the migrants and why, the group said.

Two of the migrants previously told CNN they decided to make the trip while in San Antonio after two women and a man approached them on the street near a migrant resource center.

One of the migrants, Wilmer Villazana, said he was accommodated in a hotel for five days before the flights and was well taken care of. The women told him they are from Orlando and work for private organizations that raise funds to help migrants, Villazana said.

“The type of program discussed here is not typically available to immigrants,” Sellstrom explained. “It is highly misleading in the sense that it was used to trick our customers into traveling under the guise that this assistance was available when in fact the nature of the program has very specific justification.”

Most migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard have been processed by federal authorities and go through an immigration process in which an immigration judge ultimately decides whether they can remain in the United States. Because of their status as an asylum seeker and not a refugee, they are unlikely to be entitled to the benefits listed in the brochure.

Refugees are entitled to benefits made available to them by the federal government, including cash benefits and medical assistance. In general, asylum seekers are not entitled to state-funded benefits, although they may receive support once asylum is granted.

The migrants continue to receive humanitarian assistance at Joint Base Cape Cod after Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s office voluntarily transported them there and activated more than 100 National Guardsmen for the sweeping effort.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins told reporters Thursday she would be speaking with members of the Justice Department about Gov. DeSantis sending the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

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