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Migrants sue Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over Martha’s Vineyard stunt

The class-action lawsuit claims Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others exploited vulnerable migrants for their own personal, financial and political gain.

(CN) — Nonprofit group Alianza Americas filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday on behalf of migrants the Republican official deceived into flying from Central Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Sept. 14.

The lawsuit accuses DeSantis and others of executing a “premeditated, fraudulent and illegal scheme” centered on exploiting the vulnerabilities of migrants for their own personal, financial and political interests.

Among the defendants are Jared Perdue, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, along with five unknown people and the state of Florida, who allegedly coordinated with DeSantis to lure migrants on to private planes with $10 gift certificates to McDonald’s and the promise of employment, housing, educational opportunities and assistance upon arrival.

“Lacking work and shelter, and in desperate circumstances, individual plaintiffs and other class members accepted the offer relying on these promises,” states the lawsuit. “They agreed to board a plane at the invitation of total strangers because they trusted that the defendants would provide what they had promised.”

Instead of receiving what was promised, however, plaintiffs claim they experienced “cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country.” According to the lawsuit, defendants paid $615,000 for aircrafts to transport migrants in Texas to Martha’s Vineyard — aircrafts they were told would take them to Boston or Washington — where they were left with no shelter, food or water.

The next day, DeSantis claimed credit for the deed while those abandoned in Martha’s Vineyard were left to fend for themselves against national press coverage. Many migrants, states the lawsuit, had fled “rampant crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, terrorism and wrongful detentions” and had been undergoing due process of immigrating to the U.S. before they were flown out.

“Defendants manipulated them,” added the lawsuit. “Stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process and equal protection under law and impermissibly interfered with the federal government’s exclusive control over immigration in furtherance of an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda.”

As such, plaintiffs are suing DeSantis and those involved for violating protections afforded through the U.S. Constitution, violating federal statues and engaging in acts that entitles migrants to relief of at least $75,000 per person. According to the complaint, the defendants set aside $12 million from the Florida legislature to continue the challenged conduct.

DeSantis is yet to issue a formal response to the lawsuit. However, his office released a statement on Tuesday morning defending his decision after the sheriff of Texas’ Bexar County, which is seated in San Antonio, announced a criminal investigation into the flights.

“Immigrants have been more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless, and ‘left to fend for themselves,’” read the governor’s office’s statement. “Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected. Unless the MA national guard has abandoned these individuals, they have been provided accommodations, sustenance, clothing and more options to succeed following their unfair enticement into the United States, unlike the 53 immigrants who died in a truck found abandoned in Bexar County this June.”

The statement comes days after DeSantis’ communications director, Taryn Fenske, described the flights to Martha’s Vineyard as an effort to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.”

Massachusetts’ Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he was in touch with local officials and that short-term shelter was being provided.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, tweeted: “Our island jumped into action putting together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the children, making sure people have the healthcare and support they need. We are a community that comes together to support immigrants.”

The lawsuit is led by attorneys Oren Sellstrom, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Jacob Love and Mirian Albert of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston.

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