Has a crime been committed on Martha’s Vineyard? It is complicated


“Our clients have been lied to and many misrepresentations have been made. This could expose these actors to both civil and criminal liability.”

Two planes of migrants from Venezuela arrived suddenly on Wednesday evening on Martha’s Vineyard. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

As several migrants airlifted to Martha’s Vineyard this week claim they were lured onto a plane with deceptive promises, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ political scheme has raised a number of legal questions, with some critics drawing comparisons to a kidnapping .

About 40 to 50 Venezuelan migrants arrived on the island via two charter planes and have since been housed at Joint Base Cape Cod.

In a press release Friday, DeSantis’ office doubled down on Florida’s immigration relocation program.

“Florida is not a sanctuary state,” the DeSantis administration said. “We will continue to facilitate a program to help transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities and states across the country.”

State Senator Julian Cyr, who represents Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, said in a statement that the community “has left no stone unturned” to welcome and care for migrants.

However, “it is now clear that these migrant families were misled – even manipulated – into embarking on this journey,” he added. “Capitalizing on vulnerable families, who are simply looking for a better life, for a political coup is disgusting.

But was there a crime?

Association representing migrants: “We lied to our customers”

Speaking on transportation at the Globe Summit on Friday, U.S. attorney Rachael Rollins said her office would take advice from the Department of Justice and “look long and hard…to see any legal action we may be in for.” measure to take. ”

“I have already contacted the Ministry of Justice for advice, as we are not the only entity or the only place where this has happened,” she said.

“I assure you that I am thinking long and hard about what we can do in terms of individuals who use people, quite frankly, and send them to our Commonwealth where we welcome people,” she added.

Has a crime been committed on Martha's Vineyard? It is complicated
A man, part of a group of migrants, gives a thumbs up, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha’s Vineyard. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew two migrant planes to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, stepping up a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they see as the Biden administration’s failed border policies. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP) – The Associated Press

California Governor Gavin Newsom asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department to investigate whether the transport violated federal law. Likewise, local civil rights nonprofit attorneys have urged law enforcement to investigate the criminal charges against DeSantis and any accomplices.

“Although I am not a criminal lawyer, it is obvious to us that there were criminal laws that were violated by this conduct,” LCR litigation director Oren Sellstrom said in an interview. “We have therefore asked state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute in appropriate cases human trafficking, false imprisonment, kidnapping – a variety of laws that may have been violated here by this conduct.”

There could also be a case of fraud, according to Sellstrom.

“Our customers have been lied to and many misrepresentations have been made,” he said. “This could expose these actors to both civil and criminal liability.”

Rachel Self, a Boston immigration attorney, alleged Department of Homeland Security agents forged addresses on migrants’ documents before allowing them to board planes, according to Newsweek.

As a result, she said, migrants are required to register with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office closest to those addresses — some of them as far away as Tacoma, Wash. — or be expelled from the United States.

What we don’t know

However, many unknowns remain at this stage.

“Part of what’s important in fact-finding is figuring out exactly who was doing what, and often to our clients that hasn’t been made apparent,” Sellstrom said.

Has a crime been committed on Martha's Vineyard? It is complicated
A woman, part of a group of migrants who had just arrived, holds a child as they are fed outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass. ., on Martha’s Vineyard. — Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP

He said there had been incidents where someone said to migrants while they were in Texas, “Don’t worry if you have an immigration hearing here in Texas; we’ll take care of it, even if you board the plane and go to Massachusetts.

“Exactly who was doing what and filling out what forms on their behalf – it’s unclear,” Sellstrom continued. “But what is clear is that this political stunt has put our clients at great risk, and it has implications for their ability to seek the immigration assistance to which they are entitled.”

The legal experts who spoke with The Washington Post said too little was known at this stage to draw any firm conclusions about whether it was illegal to transport migrants to another state.

Sarah Sherman-Stokes, who teaches immigration law at Boston University School of Law, told the newspaper that while much remains unknown, “It could very well be legal with a capital L. “

Ways to help

A wave of donations and volunteerism followed the arrival of migrants on Martha’s Vineyard. The support also came in the form of pro bono legal support, according to Sellstrom.

“Lawyers for Civil Rights is coordinating this advocacy on the legal side and we welcome further involvement,” he said. Lawyers for Civil Rights also accepts donations.

Boston.com Senior Writer Dialynn Dwyer contributed to this report.


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