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WASHINGTON — Three Venezuelan migrants who were flown from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week filed a federal class-action lawsuit on Tuesday against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida officials after the flaming Republican’s move to ban migrants in to transport a Democrat-controlled state sparked national controversy and a criminal investigation.
The lawsuit alleges the migrants were tricked into traveling by plane with false promises of money, jobs, shelter and food.
DeSantis and other officials “designed and executed a deliberate, fraudulent, and illegal scheme focused on exploiting this vulnerability for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial, and political interests,” the lawsuit states.
DeSantis sent the planes to Martha’s Vineyard last week, mimicking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s months-long practice of busing migrants into Democrat-run cities. The DeSantis office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The lawsuit alleges an elaborate scheme by unidentified individuals to lure migrants into traveling on the planes. These included providing hotel rooms, McDonald’s gift cards, hundreds of dollars in cash, and false promises of their ultimate destination. Migrants who were on the flight last week said a woman named Perla approached them outside the Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio and promised them jobs and shelter. Some said they were told they were going to Boston. But they arrived in Martha’s Vineyard, where local officials were caught off guard.
Republicans often refer to those making the trips as “illegal immigrants,” but many of them are asylum seekers who have been permitted entry into the country pending the completion of their legal cases.
The lawsuit says the unidentified individuals identified and targeted the migrants “by traversing streets outside of a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locations, pretending to be Good Samaritans offering humanitarian assistance.”
The migrants are demanding damages as well as an injunction preventing DeSantis and the state from using “fraud and misrepresentation” to force migrants to travel.
Republican leaders are paying to transport migrants to Democrat-run sites to draw attention to the Biden administration’s immigration policies. The movements also come as a wave of migrants crosses the border into the United States. Local officials along the border said they are overwhelmed by the number of people needing assistance upon arrival. Federal officials announced Monday that they made more than 2 million immigrant arrests along the country’s southern border during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, setting a new record for the number of arrests in a single year.
Immigration rights groups and Democrats have accused Republicans of exploiting migrants for political points and claim the migrants were misled before they were flown to Massachusetts last week. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced his criminal investigation into the flights Monday night, saying he believes a crime took place but declined to name suspects.
“We want to know what was promised [the migrants]. What, if anything, did they sign? Did they understand the document that was presented to them when they signed something? Or was that purely predatory?” Salazar said.
Florida has committed $12 million to the migrant resettlement program, even though the migrants DeSantis has resettled so far have been in Texas, not Florida. Abbott has so far spent at least $12 million on buses sending migrants to New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC. Last week he sent buses to Vice President Kamala Harris’ Washington residence.
According to state records, DeSantis has spent over $1.5 million on the flights to date.
To date, Abbott’s office says it has transported at least 10,000 migrants to Washington, DC, New York and Chicago — self-proclaimed sanctuary cities run by Democrats. The trips are part of his more than $4 billion border security initiative called Operation Lone Star, which aims to curb border crossings.
Abbott announced its bus program on Tuesday, sharing the number of migrants being transported to other cities. In a tweetAbbott said over 8,100 migrants were sent to Washington, DC, over 2,600 to New York City, and over 675 migrants to Chicago.
“President Biden continues to ignore the historic crisis on our southern border caused by his open border policy, so we will bring the border to him. Texas will continue to send migrants to haven cities like Washington, DC until President Biden and Border Czar Harris do their jobs and secure the border,” Abbott said in a statement.
In May, Arizona began bringing migrants out of the state to Washington, DC, which AZFamily said cost the state $3 million in the program’s first three months. El Paso, a Democrat-run city, sent a bus carrying 35 migrants to New York in late August.
While the bus policy has sparked national outrage among Democrats and immigrant groups, recent polls show that in Texas a majority of voters support Abbott’s migrant resettlement plan.
William Melhado contributed to this story.
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