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Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard sue Florida for violating their rights

Lawyers representing migrants flown from Texas to Martha's Vineyard last week filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of violating their constitutional rights. File Photo By Gary I Rothstein/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/4093396370a1c505ca5fdfd421aab3ba/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Lawyers representing migrants flown from Texas to Martha's Vineyard last week filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of violating their constitutional rights. File Photo By Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Lawyers representing migrants flown last week from Texas to Martha's Vineyard have filed a class action lawsuit charging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with violating their clients' civil rights by victimizing them in an illegal scheme that sought political gain.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Lawyers for Civil Rights accuses the Republican governor and his administration of manipulating some 50 Venezuelan migrants lawfully in the United States with "false promises and misrepresentations" of housing, work and education to board two planes charted by DeSantis that flew them Wednesday to the Massachusetts island where they were "abandoned."

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The lawsuit names DeSantis, his transportation secretary, Jared Perdue, as well as the transportation department and the state as defendants, accusing them and other unidentified accomplices of running "a premeditated, fraudulent and illegal scheme" that deprived their clients of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process and equal protection under the law to advance their own personal, financial and political interests.

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The lawyers also charged the DeSantis administration of carrying out the scheme with the use of federal COVID-19 relief money.

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"No human being should be used as a political pawn in the nation's highly polarized debate over immigration," Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement.

The migrants were sent to Martha's Vineyard, a small island of some 15,000 people, on Wednesday with DeSantis claiming credit, stating it's part of his so-called immigration relocation program that he spearheaded to protect Florida from the impacts of the Biden administration's immigration policies.

The flights were sent amid a fight between DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden as the two governors have repeatedly blamed the president and his policies for the increase in migrants attempting to enter the United States via its southwestern border.

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Abbott this summer has also bussed thousands of migrants to northern Democrat-led cities.

Democrats and civil and human rights advocates have condemn DeSantis over using human lives in what they say is a political stunt, but the Republican and potential presidential candidate has repeatedly defended the action since, stating the migrants were identified in Texas as wanting to go to Florida and instead the state offered them free transport to a "sanctuary" jurisdiction.

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"We are not a sanctuary state," he said Thursday.

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According to state records, the two flights costs $615,000, and he has said he has $12 million at his disposal for the immigration relocation plan and he intends to spend "every penny of that to make sure that we're protecting the people of the state of Florida."

The migrants were approached by unidentified people concerning plans to board the planes at a migrant center in San Antonio. The lawsuit for the first time details how the defendants provided the migrants, some of whom have suffered from chronic food insecurity, with $10 McDonalds gift certificates and other such items to gain their trust and cooperation.

"After luring Plaintiffs by exploiting their most basic needs, the Doe Defendants then made false promises and false representations that if Plaintiffs and class members were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities and other like assistance upon their arrival," the lawsuit states.

The lawyers state their clients were then put up in free hotels that sequestered them from the migrant center and from "the possibility of actual good Samaritans finding out how the class members were being abused."

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The migrants were informed that they were being taken to Boston or Washington, D.C., but instead dropped them off on Martha's Vineyard without food, water or shelter and with no one there knowing they were to arrive, it said.

"The Doe Defendants disappeared and did not answer alarmed calls from the class members to get information about what had gone wrong after they landed," the lawsuit states. "But nothing had 'gone wrong.' Instead, the scheme worked exactly as the Defendants intended.

"These immigrants, who are pursuing the proper channels for lawful immigration status in the United States, experienced cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country."

As evidence that their clients were being mislead, the lawyers said the migrants were given an official-looking brochure titled "Massachusetts Refugee Benefits" right before landing that said they would be provided with assistance with housing, furnishings, food and other basic necessities. It also included sections instructing them about gaining eight months of cash assistance as well as employment.

The lawyers are asking the court to declare the actions by DeSantis and his administration violated the U.S. Constitution, enjoin them from inducing other migrants to travel across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation and award compensatory, emotional distress and punitive damages to the individual plaintiffs.

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"For the governor of Florida to cynically use recently arrived immigrants who have applied for asylum in the U.S. to advance a hate-driven agenda intended to create confusion and rejection throughout the country, is not only morally despicable, but utterly contrary to the best traditions of humanitarian protection embraced by most Americans," Oscar Chacon, the executive direction of Alianza Americas, which is also a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement.

"We want to do everything we can to prevent more abuses against newly arrived immigrants, especially asylum seekers who deserve support, protection and to be recognized for their incredible contributions they make to the U.S."

DeSantis' office has be asked for comment.

The lawsuit was filed a day after a Texas county sheriff announced the opening of a criminal investigation into the flights and amid calls for the Justice Department to do likewise.

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