June 10, 2023

Earlier this week, we speculated that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ migrant flight saga was bound to get uglier with time.

And so it goes.

inside A class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court In Massachusetts, immigrant support group Alianza Americas put flesh on the bare bones of what it said was a DeSantis-sponsored flight of about 50 immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

The problem is we’re not seeing their mass movement in Florida. It’s just coming in onesie-twosie.

— Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis laments the lack of immigration issues in his state

What was previously reported was that the immigrants were told before they boarded the two planes in Texas that they were being taken to Boston or Washington, DC, where they would be offered jobs and many would receive immigrant services.

Instead, they were dropped off on the island, which can only be reached by air or sea, where no one capable of providing such services was alerted to their arrival.

DeSantis, who named Florida Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and the state of Florida as defendants, said in the lawsuit that they “enforced” immigrants, “depriving them of their dignity, liberty, physical autonomy, due process and equal protection” under the law.

DeSantis responded to the lawsuit publicly on Tuesday A consent form is allegedly signed by a passenger. If this is true, then the revelation on DeSantis’s part must rank as a spectacular self. It is in English and Spanish, but the Spanish text – the part bearing the passenger’s signature – is an incomplete translation from the English.


The consent form, released by the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, is signed by an immigrant passenger on a flight from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard. The Spanish translation does not contain the English passage that holds the perpetrators innocent.

(State of Florida)

Missing is a Spanish translation of an entire paragraph that states that the passenger “agrees to indemnify the beneficiary or its designated representatives from all liability…related to any injuries and damages that may occur during the agreed transportation.” The document simply states that the flight will originate in Texas and land in Massachusetts, without further details.

The three plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, identified by pseudonyms, all crossed the U.S. border to seek refuge from crime, civil unrest, terrorism and 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 applications were processed, a process that could take more than a year. In the interim, they are legal residents of the United States

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were approached outside an immigrant resource center in San Antonio, Texas by two individuals identified only as “Perla” and “Emanuel,” who have not been further identified or located. The lawsuit said they gave immigrants $10 McDonald’s gift certificates and told them that if they were willing to fly from Texas, “they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities and other assistance upon their arrival.”

Perla and Emmanuel gave them their supposed cellphone numbers and told them to call if there was a problem. The lawsuit says they kept the immigrants in hotel rooms for up to five days, separated from any legitimate immigrant aid workers, while they collected enough passengers to fill the planes.

Only during the flight were passengers told that they would be landing on Martha’s Vineyard. They were handed a packet of information about the refugee resettlement program in Massachusetts, which the passengers were not, in fact, eligible for.

Perla and Emmanuel did not travel on the flight, according to the lawsuit. The cellphone number was not answered, the lawsuit says.

The passengers were dropped off at Martha’s Vineyard “at dusk, with no food, water or shelter,” the suit claims. “No one 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, incl Appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program On Tuesday, he went on a tirade about migrant flights.

Martha’s Vineyard, he told Hannity, “said they wanted it. They said they were a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

That is false. Massachusetts has never enacted legislation identifying itself as a sanctuary state, which is usually taken to imply a formal designation.

The Massachusetts High Court has ruled that state law enforcement officers cannot arrest anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally. But efforts to pass a state law establishing Massachusetts as a “sanctuary state” have consistently failed.

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

If flights were to land in Boston, especially with advance notice, officials and advocates would be on hand to receive them. As DeSantis and his agents no doubt knew, this was not the case on the island.

DeSantis acknowledged, in practice, that Florida does not have a mass immigration problem of undocumented immigrants. “The problem is we’re not seeing their mass movement in Florida,” he said A press conference on Tuesday. “It’s just coming in onesie-twosie.”

He said “we’ve had people” at the border who have determined that between one-third and 40% are interested in coming to Florida. “If you can do it at the source and go to sanctuary jurisdictions, they’re much less likely to end up in Florida.”

This brings us to the latest iteration of DeSantis’ baby stunt. On Tuesday, a plane chartered by DeSantis, the same company used for the Martha’s Vineyard flight, took off from San Antonio, with a flight plan showing it headed for President Biden’s home state of Delaware.

Delaware officials and immigrant advocates scrambled to accept it. Instead, the plan landed in Teterboro, NJ, with no one but the flight crew on board.

Coverage of the episode casts doubt on whether our political media will be ready to see past the absurdities of political campaigning in the upcoming elections and focus on what matters.

On MSNBC, the episode was Covered as a big joke Where the White House, Delaware officials, were “punked” by the “media and political audience.”

MSNBC pitched it as a “‘Waiting for Godot’-like spectacle” that highlighted the “complex politics surrounding immigration, as well as DeSantis’ knack for grabbing headlines.” What is this really about?

Here are a few questions that didn’t make it into MSNBC’s entertainment coverage: Why the posse about sending immigrants to Delaware, since it’s not a sanctuary state? Also, how much time, effort and money did officials and immigration service providers waste by being forced to wait in vain for a flight from Texas, because their concern was for the passengers, not for political point-scoring?

And did DeSantis spend Florida’s budget resources to move immigrants on a flight with no other purpose, and for no other purpose than “punking” well-wishers at the destination? DeSantis’ precise role in the flight is unclear, though DeSantis declined to comment on the flight and an unnamed DeSantis aide quoted by MSNBC said the governor “purposely kept people in the dark.”

USAtoday’s framing was almost invisible. The Gannett newspaper described the Delaware episode as “part of an ongoing feud between Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that has grabbed headlines and a spotlight Biden’s border policy

One would think that Biden and DeSantis would be neck-and-neck on immigration, but that’s not the case. DeSantis, like his fellow GOP governors, has no policy proposals to propose immigration and, in fact, admits that Florida does not have an immigration problem.

(My colleagues Andrea Castillo and Erin B. Logan also covered the episode, quoting immigration officials at length about their efforts, and without the humor of MSNBC or the shortsightedness of USAToday.)

Contrary to MSNBC’s framing, none of this is about the “complex politics around immigration.” This is functional stupidity masquerading as a serious policy debate, with vulnerable people being the victims. If the news media can’t tell the difference, we’re in trouble.

According to the class action lawsuit, it is about the abuse of “destitute, helpless, and extremely vulnerable” individuals and families who sought assistance in the United States and followed all the rules to receive it. Instead, they are manipulated by agents of reckless and malicious politicians who deceive them and place them in situations where their legal and social problems only grow.

DeSantis is only one of the Republican governors to engage in the practice, though one seems best at attracting the attention of an apathetic press. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have long been on the subject; They just lack DeSantis’ quirky verve. Those who cheat innocent people out of their money often face jail time if caught.

In these cases the victims are deprived of much more and by the perpetrators who brag rather than hide their activities.

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