Mass. Asks DOJ to Look Into DeSantis' 'Inhumane Acts'

Officials want probe into whether moving migrants to Martha's Vineyard was human trafficking
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 19, 2022 8:54 AM CDT
Mass. Wants DOJ to Look Into DeSantis' Migrant Drop
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters on Aug. 24 in Tampa, Fla.   (Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to transport 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard has been slammed by critics as "gross," "unbelievably cruel," and "crimes against humanity." Whether it was illegal or not is another matter, and one that the state of Massachusetts wants to figure out: USA Today reports that authorities there have asked for a federal probe into human trafficking. "We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis & others accountable for these inhumane acts," state Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted Sunday. "Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking."

Fernandes also noted that he'd spoken with US Attorney Rachael Rollins and was "grateful to hear she is pushing for a response from the DOJ." DeSantis has denied doing anything wrong, let alone illegal, claiming at a Friday press conference that the migrants voluntarily boarded the flights, per NPR. "They're given a good ride," he said, noting the transport is part of the $12 million that Florida's Legislature has allotted to move "unauthorized aliens" out of his state. "It's a humane thing to do." He added that the migrants were also given a release form to sign, as well as a packet that included a map of Martha's Vineyard. It's not clear when they were given that packet, however: Some migrants have said that they weren't informed of their final destination until the flight was already in the air.

Immigration attorneys tell NPR that if the migrants were lured onto the planes with false promises of jobs, that could constitute fraud—which in turn could qualify the migrants for special automatic visas that protect human trafficking victims. On its own website, US Citizenship and Immigration Services notes that "traffickers and abusers often use a lack of immigration status to exploit and control victims," adding that such traffickers "may lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life." "We believe they are victims of kidnapping," an immigration lawyer on Martha's Vineyard said in a statement to the Martha's Vineyard Times. (More Ron DeSantis stories.)

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