Texas sheriff certifies that migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard are crime victims

Texas sheriff certifies that migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard are crime victims


“These certifications are an acknowledgment of the wrongs done to our clients and a crucial step in helping them to chart their path forward… Immigrants are human beings, not political props.”

Migrant families say farewell to volunteers before boarding a bus that will take them to the ferry on Martha’s Vineyard, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. Migrants shipped to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida’s Republican governor said that they had been misled about where they were being taken, prompting immigration lawyers to promise legal action as the refugees from Venezuela were relocated temporarily to a federal military base. Matt Cosby/The New York Times

The Texas sheriff leading an investigation into the movement of migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last month has certified that all 49 people flown to the island were victims of a crime.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar’s office signed certifications for special visas only available to people who were the victims of a crime or who witnessed a crime. The certifications for these documents, known as U-visas, will allow all people on the flights to apply for legal status in the United States, according to the ACLU of Massachusetts. Nine of the people flown to Massachusetts are represented by the ACLU. 

Immigration attorney Rachel Self, who is based in Boston, confirmed to WGBH that she and her colleagues submitted documentation to make sure that the migrants can be available as witnesses during the criminal investigation. 

“We are grateful for Sheriff Salazar’s recognition of the gravity of these events. These certifications are an acknowledgment of the wrongs done to our clients and a crucial step in helping them to chart their path forward,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts in a statement. “Immigrants are human beings, not political props. We are proud that Massachusetts received these immigrants with compassion, and look forward to continuing to work with our clients as they begin their lives in our community.”

Authorities are investigating the case as a possible example of unlawful restraint, Self told WGBH, as many of the migrants claimed that they were transported under false pretenses. 

The group of Venezuelan migrants was dropped off on Martha’s Vineyard in mid-September, surprising locals and the migrants themselves, some of whom said they believed they were being flown to Boston. 

Although the migrants were transported from Texas, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed responsibility for the operation. Shortly after the charter planes touched down at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, DeSantis’ office told Fox News that they were flown there as part of Florida’s “relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.”

DeSantis appeared to be following in the path of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who sought to make a political statement by busing migrants from Texas to northern cities like Washington, D.C. and New York City. 

Although the migrants flown by DeSantis were welcomed with open arms by Martha’s Vineyard residents, the island did not have enough resources or job opportunities to accommodate them long-term. The group was then brought to Joint Base Cape Cod, before departing earlier this month to temporary housing or residences in other states, The Boston Globe reported. 

Salazar announced his office’s investigation last month. Salazar said that investigators are seeking the people responsible for luring the migrants under false pretenses. 

“They were promised work, they were promised the solution to several of their problems. They were taken to Martha’s Vineyard, from what we can gather, for little more than a photo op, video op,” Salazar said at the time. “Then they were unceremoniously stranded in Martha’s Vineyard.”

The migrants and local civil rights lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis and other Florida officials, saying that the plan was “fraudulent and discriminatory.”

Police are investigating a woman named Perla Huerta for her role in the operation, The New York Times reported earlier this month. The former combat medic and counterintelligence agent was recently discharged from the U.S. Army. Huerta reportedly recruited migrants for the flights outside a resource center in San Antonio. Some of those migrants said they were lied to about their final destination, and did not know that Huerta was sent to Texas by Florida officials. 

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