Judge Rules Migrants Can Sue Transport Company

Unlawful migrants file into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection bus
Unlawful migrants file into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection bus after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on January 07, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. | Image by John Moore/Getty Images

A federal judge recently ruled that a group of unlawful migrants can move forward with a lawsuit against the charter company that flew them from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

The lawsuit stems from flights arranged by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in September 2022, in which roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard from San Antonio, Florida, without being made aware of the final destination, according to the New York Post.

The lawsuit was filed by three Venezuelan migrants, identified as Yanet, Pablo, and Jesus, and the immigrant rights group Alianza Americas. The lawsuit alleges that the Vertol Systems Company, DeSantis, and members of his administration deceived them in an “uncivilized, fraudulent, civil-rights conspiracy targeting LatinX immigrants,” according to CNN.

The arrival of the unlawful migrants to Martha’s Vineyard was reportedly a surprise to both the migrants and the island residents, per the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled that the lawsuit could move forward, writing in her 77-page ruling that “Plaintiffs sufficiently allege that Vertol ‘intended, knew, or should have known that [its] conduct would cause emotional distress’” and that the “conduct here was extreme and outrageous.”

Burroughs further wrote in her ruling that the plaintiffs “suffered severe emotional distress,” which they “fairly described as a perpetual fear and anxiety surrounding their public inclusion in Defendant’s scheme.”

DeSantis’ office said in a statement that flights were conducted “lawfully and authorized by the Florida Legislature,” noting that the judge’s ruling removed the governor and other members of his administration as defendants in the case.

“We look forward to Florida’s next illegal immigrant relocation flight, and we are glad to bring national attention to the crisis at the southern border,” continued the statement, per CNN.

Burroughs wrote in her ruling that she decided “without prejudice” to remove multiple defendants, including DeSantis, due to the lack of jurisdiction over some defendants. Still, she left the door open to refile the claims in another court.

Lawyers for Civil Rights, the group representing the unlawful migrants in the lawsuit, said in a press release that they were pleased with the ruling but plan to “seek jurisdictional discovery to continue to assert claims against DeSantis and other conspiracy perpetrators, including all the state defendants who have been dismissed for the time being.”

“The favorable ruling is a major victory in the Martha’s Vineyard case, and it sends a crucial message: private companies can — and will — be held accountable for helping rogue state actors violate the rights of vulnerable immigrants through illegal and fraudulent schemes,” the press release read.

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