Lawsuits and investigations launched over Florida migrant flights

In the week since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordered two state-chartered airplanes to fly to Texas, pick up migrant asylum-seekers there, and take them to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts mainland, there has been mounting evidence of the illegal and unconstitutional character of this political provocation.

Equally important, there are indications that the Biden administration and Democratic state legislators in Florida collaborated in what they are now—belatedly—denouncing as a political stunt by DeSantis. The Florida governor is a candidate for reelection on November 8, and a prospective candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, and tipped off his big financial contributors about the impending operation at a fundraiser held a few days before the flight.

Lawyers for the migrants filed the first of what are expected to be multiple civil suits against DeSantis and the state of Florida on Tuesday. The suit charges that the asylum-seekers had been duped by false promises of jobs and housing, and told they were going to Boston, not a vacation island with no jobs, no housing and no access to the immigration courts where they had filed their claims for refugee status.

Lawsuits and investigations launched over Florida migrant flights
Immigrants provided refuge inside a church on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts [Photo by State Rep. Dylan Fernandes]

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the federal class action lawsuit against DeSantis, the state treasurer who disbursed the funds for the flight, “and other unidentified accomplices [who] designed and executed a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting this vulnerability for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests.”

The suit also charges that the migrant flights were unlawful because they “impermissibly interfered” with the detention and transportation of immigrants. The power “to admit, exclude, remove, or allow to remain in the United States” is reserved to the federal government under the US Constitution.

Under federal law, these powers are exercised by the Department of Homeland Security through agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), not by any state governor.

Some legal experts pointed out that from the standpoint of federal law, DeSantis is no different from a “human trafficker” or “coyote,” much demonized by the right-wing and fascist media for enabling migrants to cross the US-Mexico border and then travel to their chosen destinations within the United States.

According to the suit, the supposed “consent form” signed by the migrants “was not completely translated to Spanish: an entire paragraph about liability and transport was not translated at all, and language specifying that the journey would take place from Texas to Massachusetts was not translated at all either.”

Rachel Self, a representative of Lawyers for Civil Rights, told a press briefing that there were indications that ICE agents had worked with DeSantis operatives in facilitating the migrant flights. She said that ICE agents had processed the migrants and “listed falsified addresses on the migrants’ paperwork,” before they boarded the flights.

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