September 24, 2022


Earlier this week, we speculated that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ migrant flight saga was about to get uglier over time.

And so it goes.

U class action lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Massachusetts, the immigrant aid group Alianza Americas put flesh on the bare bones of what is known about the DeSantis-sponsored flights of nearly 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

The problem is that we don’t see their mass movements to Florida. It just comes in overalls.

– Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, lamenting his state’s lack of immigration problems

What was previously reported was that before boarding the two planes in Texas, the migrants were told they would be taken to Boston or Washington, DC, where they would be given jobs and receive a host of immigration services.

Instead, they were delivered to an island, accessible only by air or sea, where no one who could provide such services had been alerted to their arrival.

Naming DeSantis, Florida Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and the state of Florida as defendants, the lawsuit alleges they have “manipulated” the migrants, “deprived them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process and equal protection under the law.”

On Tuesday, DeSantis responded to the lawsuit by posting a consent form allegedly signed by one of the passengers. If authentic, DeSantis’ disclosure must rank as a spectacular of its own. It is in English and Spanish, but the Spanish text – the part bearing the traveler’s signature – is an incomplete translation from the English.

consent

A consent form released by the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, allegedly signed by a migrant passenger on Florida’s flight to Martha’s Vineyard. The Spanish translation lacks the English passage that considers the perpetrators harmless.

(State of Florida)

Missing is the Spanish translation of the entire paragraph confirming that the passenger agrees to “hold harmless the Benefactor or its designated representatives from all liability… in connection with any injuries and damages that may occur during the contracted transportation.” The document states only that the flight departed from Texas and landed in Massachusetts, without further details.

The three named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are identified by pseudonyms, all crossed the U.S. border to seek asylum from crime, civil unrest, terrorism and other similar conditions in their home country of Venezuela.

They surrendered to US immigration officials, who allowed them to remain in the US while their asylum claims were processed, a process that can take more than a year. Meanwhile, they are legal US residents

According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs were approached outside a migrant center in San Antonio, Texas by two individuals identified only as “Perla” and “Emanuel,” who have not been further identified or located. The lawsuit alleges that they gave the migrants $10 McDonald’s gift certificates and told them that if they were willing to be flown out of Texas, they would “receive employment, housing, educational opportunities and other similar assistance upon arrival.”

Perla and Emanuel gave them supposed cell phone numbers and told them to call if there were any problems. The lawsuit alleges they kept migrants in hotel rooms for as long as five days, separated from any legitimate migrant aid workers, while they collected enough passengers to fill planes.

It wasn’t until mid-flight that passengers were told they would be landing on Martha’s Vineyard. They were handed a packet of information about refugee resettlement programs in Massachusetts, for which the travelers were not, in fact, eligible.

Perla and Emanuel did not travel on the flights, according to the lawsuit. Cell phone numbers were not answered, according to the lawsuit.

The passengers were left on Martha’s Vineyard “in the evening, without food, water or shelter,” the lawsuit said. “Nobody in Martha’s Vineyard—or…anywhere in Massachusetts—knew they were coming.”

DeSantis and his co-defendants have not filed a formal response to the lawsuit. But in public statements, including appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program On Tuesday, he spouted a bunch of nonsense about migrant flights.

Martha’s Vineyard, Hannity said, “said they wanted this. They said they are a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

That’s a lie. Massachusetts has never enacted legislation identifying itself as a sanctuary state, which is usually thought to involve a formal designation.

The Massachusetts High Court has said that state law enforcement officers cannot arrest anyone simply on suspicion of being in the US illegally. But attempts to pass state legislation establishing Massachusetts as a “sanctuary state” have consistently failed.

Several communities in the state, including Boston, have declared themselves sanctuary jurisdictions, but Martha’s Vineyard is not among them.

If flights had landed in Boston, especially with advance notice, officers and agents would have been on hand to receive them. As DeSantis and his agents undoubtedly knew, this was not the case on the island.

DeSantis, in fact, acknowledged that Florida does not have a mass migration problem of undocumented immigrants. “The problem is we’re not seeing their mass movements into Florida,” he said press conference on Tuesday. “He just comes in overalls.”

He said “we have people” at the border who have determined that between one-third and 40% of those crossing are interested in coming to Florida. “If you can do it at the source and divert to sanctuary jurisdictions, the chance of them ending up in Florida is much less.”

Which brings us to the latest iteration of DeSantis’ infantile stunt. On Tuesday, the plane chartered by the same company DeSantis used for the Martha’s Vineyard flight appeared to have departed from San Antonio, and the flight plan showed it headed for Delaware, President Biden’s home state.

Delaware officials and immigrant advocates tried to take him in. Instead, the plan landed in Teterboro, NJ, with no one but the flight crew on board.

The coverage of this episode raises doubts about whether our political media will be ready to see past the nonsense of the political campaign in the upcoming elections and focus on what is important.

On MSNBC, the episode was covered as a big joke in which the White House, Delaware officials, “the news media and political observers” were “gunned down.”

MSNBC framed this as a “Godot-like spectacle” highlighting “intractable immigration policy as well as DeSantis’ knack for grabbing headlines.” Is it really about that?

Here are some questions that didn’t make MSNBC’s entertainment reports: Why bother sending migrants to Delaware at all, since it’s not a sanctuary state? Also, how much time, effort and money were wasted by immigration officials and service providers forced to wait in vain for a flight out of Texas because they were concerned about passengers and not a political point?

And did DeSantis spend Florida budget funds directed at moving immigrants to a flight without immigrants and for no other purpose than to “shoot” well-wishers at the destination? DeSantis’ precise role in the flight is unclear, though DeSantis declined to comment on the flight, and an anonymous DeSantis aide cited by MSNBC said the governor “deliberately left people in the dark.”

USAToday’s framing was almost as myopic. Gannett newspaper described the Delaware episode as part of a “continuing spat between Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that has grabbed headlines and put Biden’s border policy.”

One would think that Biden and DeSantis would be mano-a-mano on immigration, but that’s simply not true. DeSantis, like his fellow GOP governors, has no immigration policy proposals and, indeed, has acknowledged that Florida does not have an immigration problem.

(My colleagues Andrea Castillo and Erin B. Logan also reported on the episode, quoting immigration officials at length about their efforts, without any MSNBC jokes or USAToday short-sightedness.)

Unlike MSNBC’s framing, none of this is actually about the “intractable politics of immigration.” It’s just performative nonsense masquerading as a serious political debate, with vulnerable people being the victims. If the media can’t tell the difference, we’re in trouble.

The class-action lawsuit alleges abuse of “poor, stranded and extremely vulnerable” individuals and families who sought help in the United States and followed all the rules to get it. Instead, they are held back by agents of thoughtless and malignant politicians who deceive them and place them in situations where their legal and social problems only increase.

DeSantis is just one of the Republican governors who engages in this practice, though he seems to be the best at drawing the attention of the unwary press. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have been at it longer; they just lack DeSantis’ distinctive verve. People who swindle innocent people often face jail time when caught.

In these cases, the victims are deprived of much more than the perpetrators who brag about their activities and do not hide them.





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