Many of the basic elements of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt are well established. The Republican and his representatives used public resources to lure desperate migrants onto airplanes under false pretenses. The exploited victims of the governor’s scheme were then dropped off on a Massachusetts island — without local officials being notified.
The migrants are now represented by counsel and have filed suit over the fiasco, but a couple of key questions remain. One is over the identity of “Perla,” who allegedly helped lure the migrants onto airplanes with brazen lies about their destination and the benefits that awaited them upon their arrival. The other is about whether the stunt was legal.
Answers to both questions are starting to come into focus. The New York Times reported over the weekend on the woman “with a background in military counterintelligence” who investigators now believe was sent from Tampa to Texas to help execute DeSantis’ plot.
Until now, little has been known about the woman whom migrants said identified herself only by her first name, “Perla,” when she solicited them to join the flights. A person briefed on the San Antonio sheriff’s office investigation into the matter told The New York Times that the person being looked at in connection with the operation is a woman named Perla Huerta. Ms. Huerta, a former combat medic and counterintelligence agent, was discharged in August after two decades in the U.S. Army that included several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to military records.
The Times’ reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, clearly advances our understanding of the controversy. It also raises new and related questions.
The DeSantis administration could’ve hired anyone to lure migrants onto an airplane, but it appears to have found someone with a background in Army counterintelligence who had left military service only weeks earlier. How did this person get the gig? How much was she paid with public resources? What kind of instructions was she given? Any chance the governor’s office might be willing to disclose the contract?
What’s more, lawyers for the migrants suing DeSantis told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that they intend to name Huerta as a defendant in the civil case. Why does this matter? Because as Greg explained, this could “pave the way to deposing her for details about the DeSantis administration’s potential involvement in deceiving the migrants.”
As for the other core question — whether any of this was legal — there’s reason to believe the governor has a problem on his hands. As we’ve discussed, Florida legislators approved funds “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.”
In this case, however, asylum seekers almost certainly weren’t “unauthorized aliens” under immigration laws, and “this state” referred to Florida, not Texas.
Michael Barfield, director of public access at the Florida Center for Government Accountability, told the Times, “I have been doing this long enough to know that the state of Florida is being deliberately opaque about this incident. I do believe there is a misuse of state funds.”
To date, DeSantis hasn’t offered a detailed defense of his gambit, and what the governor has pitched has been unpersuasive. What’s more, in the immediate aftermath of the migrants arriving on Martha’s Vineyard, the Republican was eager to claim credit for the developments, and he even suggested it was merely the first salvo.
In the weeks that followed, there have been no additional flights, and a Texas-to-Delaware stunt was called off right around the time a Texas sheriff opened a criminal inquiry into this mess and DeSantis’ first round of victims found a lawyer and filed a credible lawsuit.