TALLAHASSEE — U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents aided Governor Ron DeSantis’ operation to transport 48 refugees from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, and misled the migrants with documents that could have them deported, attorneys for immigration were charged.
Agents with DHS met the migrants as they boarded the planes and provided false addresses and agency information to contact to have their addresses changed, Boston immigration attorney Rachel Self said.
“It couldn’t be clearer that this is an attempt to deport these people even though they are trying as hard as possible to comply with the instructions given to them,” Self told a group. of journalists in a seaside resort off the coast. from Massachusetts.
“It is sickeningly cruel to throw obstacles at people fleeing violence and oppression, some of whom have crossed 10 countries in the hope of finding safety,” she said.
Elizabeth Ricci, an immigration attorney in Tallahassee, said Friday that DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of DHS’s divisions, must be involved.
“ICE likely conspired with the governor’s office to pull off the stunt,” Ricci said. “It could not have been done without their direct involvement.”
DHS officials did not return requests for comment.
The migrants were instructed to file a change of address with U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, which Self said was “troublesome because anyone with a working knowledge of immigration procedures knows that this is the wrong agency the immigrants had to contact to change their addresses.”
Failure to file a change of address with the correct agency would result in deportation, she said.
In addition, officers put fake addresses on migrants’ papers, Self said, randomly choosing homeless shelters from Washington state to Florida, even after migrants told them they did not have an address in the United States.
Self said it was clear the migrants had essentially been kidnapped, “fraudulently tricked into boarding planes by being told there would be a surprise for them and jobs and housing would be waiting for them when they arrived. “, she said. “It was a sadistic lie.”
No one on Martha’s Vineyard knew they were coming, and they had to walk around with colored maps in hand trying to find a government office where they could get help, according to multiple reports.
The migrants were being bussed from Martha’s Vineyard to Joint Base Camp Cod on the mainland on Friday after receiving an outpouring of help from island residents.
DeSantis confirmed Friday that a contractor had been hired to charter two planes on Wednesday “as part of the state’s immigrant resettlement program.”
No further details have been released despite repeated public inquiries from the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday and Friday to which the governor’s office has not responded.
U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, a Democrat who ran against DeSantis for governor on Nov. 8, filed a public records request Friday seeking similar details.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and California Governor Gavin Newsom were among officials calling on the US Justice Department to investigate whether the relocation amounted to trafficking. Penalties can include a fine, a prison term of up to five years, or both.
Miriam Albert, a lawyer with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said her organization was “ready to take legal action to protect people here today and all people in the same situation”.
She also said her organization was exploring “all actions, civil and criminal, to hold the perpetrators accountable and prevent this injustice from happening again.”
In Orlando, Hispanic leaders and immigrant advocates expressed outrage.
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“I’m really frustrated, angry, sad and very hurt by what happened,” Stephanie Wall, director of operations for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said at a press conference.
Immigrants “come here looking for safety, opportunity, freedom and freedom…because we are also oppressed in our countries,” she said. “We don’t come here to be oppressed again, to be trafficked again.”
Jose Rodriguez, an Episcopal priest, said the migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard “not just to cause a scene, but to send a message to other migrants that you are not welcome here”.
Laudi Campo, director of the Florida Hispanic Federation, stressed that migrants follow legal process when they come to the United States to seek protection.
“They’re asking for something legal,” Campo said. “They are asking for asylum. Some people say, ‘Go through the process.’ They follow the process. … Some people say, ‘Wait in line.’ They are online.
The money for the flights came from a $12 million program approved by the Legislature this year for contractors to move undocumented migrants from Florida to other states.
That funding came from interest earned on $8.8 billion the state received from Washington for coronavirus recovery efforts, money that immigration advocates and state Democrats say should have been used to help people struggling because of the pandemic.