To hear Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tell it, he did desperate migrants a huge favor last week by luring them onto planes and dumping them on a Massachusetts island that was unprepared for their arrival. “They were in really, really bad shape,” the Republican said on Fox News last night. “There are jobs available in Martha’s Vineyard. There is lodging available in Martha’s Vineyard.”
These claims weren’t true, but they were familiar: The migrants were allegedly promised jobs and housing as part of DeSantis’ scheme to transport them from Texas to New England. Those alleged assurances were, of course, obvious lies, which the GOP governor repeated last night.
DeSantis nevertheless made it sound as if he helped the people he exploited for political gain. Evidently, they don’t quite see it that way: NBC News reported that migrants sued DeSantis and other state officials in federal court yesterday, alleging they were victims of fraud.
Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based network of migrant-led organizations, and three migrants who landed in Massachusetts last week on flights chartered by Florida accused DeSantis and his co-defendants of executing “a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme ... for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests.” In the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status in Massachusetts federal court, the plaintiffs allege that the “ruse” — which DeSantis claimed credit for as part of his effort to highlight illegal immigration — violated constitutional protections under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and several federal statutes.
While the Florida governor and his administration have insisted in recent days that the exploited migrants weren’t misled, there’s some compelling evidence to the contrary: Many of the apparent victims of DeSantis’ stunt have told the same story about a woman they identified as “Perla” who helped lure them onto airplanes with brazen lies about their destination and the benefits that awaited them upon their arrival.
It’s precisely why this new lawsuit claims they were induced to cross state lines under false pretenses.
By way of a defense, the Republican’s office presented copies of consent forms to Fox News, presumably to prove that the migrants signed the documents and boarded the planes voluntarily.
But this misses the point: The plaintiffs in this lawsuit claim to have been coerced and deceived. Even if the documents and signatures are legitimate — and I have no reason to believe otherwise — this doesn’t negate the underlying allegations.
NBC News’ report added that the same civil litigation asks a federal court to block DeSantis and others named in the lawsuit from “inducing immigrants to travel across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation.”
In other words, the Republican governor has already pulled this stunt once, and as he prepares to do it again, a court should intervene.
What’s more, the lawsuit further argues that the public resources DeSantis used were unauthorized because it “originated from the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and was therefore subject to its use restrictions.” This is different from the related claims that the Republican governor misused the funds under Florida law.
It’s a case with significant potential. Watch this space.