A Texas sheriff has declared that the 49 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard last month by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were victims of a crime on the grounds that they were allegedly taken there under false pretenses.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, whose office opened a criminal investigation into DeSantis’ actions last month, signed certification forms for the migrants.
Migrants being certified as crime victims often takes over a year, so Salazar turning them around so quickly after the September flights is unusual.
The certification qualifies the migrants to apply for special visas that are reserved for people who are a victim of or witness to a crime, according to Boston-based immigration attorney Rachel Self.
Florida chartered two planes to pick up the asylum-seeking migrants from San Antonio, Texas, and drop them off on the Massachusetts island.
The planes made a stop in the Florida panhandle before making their way to Martha’s Vineyard, CBS News reported.
“Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” a misdemeanor, Salazar said in a statement. “We have submitted documentation through the federal system to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation.”
“We have suspects identified, however at this point in the investigation we are not at liberty to release those names publicly or confirm any identities,” he said.
Salazar did assure that “only those who were physically in our jurisdiction at the time of the offense are considered suspects.”
As certified victims of a crime, the mostly Venezuelan migrants can apply for these special visas, called U-visas, which would allow them to remain in the U.S. lawfully as the criminal investigation by Salazar’s department and the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office proceeds.
“These certifications will ensure that the migrants can continue to help our law enforcement officials, and that they will be able to process and heal from the incredibly traumatic experiences they have suffered as a result of the cruel, heartless acts committed against them,” Self told GBH News.
Self said that over the past few weeks, she and other immigration attorneys have worked with Salazar’s Organized Crime Division to coordinate and conduct interviews with the migrants to collect their accounts, photos, and videos of the flights.
Bexar County’s investigation is not the only one ongoing into the transportation of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
The Treasury Department’s internal watchdog is also investigating whether DeSantis improperly used federal pandemic aid to fund the flights to Martha’s Vineyard as part of his effort to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations,” though Massachusetts does not have a sanctuary state law on its books.
“If you have folks who are inclined to think Florida is a good place [to settle], our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state, and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” Gov. DeSantis said later the same day the migrants were dropped off in Martha’s Vineyard.
“And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures,” he added.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also sent migrants to Democrat-controlled areas like Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago to bring attention to the large number of migrants coming across the southern border.
Texas has bused over 8,200 migrants to Washington D.C. since April, over 3,300 migrants to New York City since August 5, and more than 1,000 migrants to Chicago since August 31, according to Gov. Abbott’s office.
“The busing mission is providing much-needed relief to our overwhelmed border communities,” a news release from the governor’s office reads.
Still, in an interview last week with Spanish-language Univision news, Gov. Abbott emphasized that Texas’ program is different because the migrants voluntarily agree to board buses and are aware of their final destination.
“The way that we do it is we receive written authorization from everybody who gets on that bus that they fully authorize the state to transport them to whatever location it is that they’re going to,” Abbott said. “And so, this is done willfully, knowingly. And they are provided food and beverages and other things on the trip. And so, it’s just done completely differently.”