At face value, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ scheme is a moral and political outrage. The Florida Republican and his team stand accused of using false promises to lure desperate migrants onto airplanes in Texas and then dumping them on a small New England island ill-equipped for their unannounced arrival. All of this appears to have been done as part of an exploitative stunt, designed to bolster a far-right governor’s political prospects.
By all appearances, DeSantis simply doesn’t care about questions of conscience or propriety. That’s certainly his choice. But what the Floridian might want to take more seriously are questions about whether his scheme was legal. NBC News reported:
A Texas sheriff said Monday that his office has opened a criminal investigation into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ unprecedented move to send nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last week. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the inquiry was in its early stages, and he declined to name possible suspects. But in a news conference, he said: “Everybody on this call knows who those names are already.”
By all appearances, the investigation is in its early stages, but the Bexar County sheriff added that he believes the migrants in question may have been “lured under false pretenses” by DeSantis’ representatives.
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that those concerns are well grounded. Many of these migrants have told the same story with the same details 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.
What’s more, a separate NBC News report added yesterday that the migrants were given a brochure about housing, cash assistance and jobs for refugees, but the brochure was wildly misleading and, according to Lawyers for Civil Rights, potentially criminal. (The brochure was first reported by the website Popular Information.)
Complicating matters for DeSantis is that there are related legal questions swirling in his home state, and they’re just as difficult to answer. While the governor has insisted in recent days that Florida lawmakers gave him $12 million to execute transports such as these, Politico reported that it’s not at all clear whether he’s “carried out the program as the Republican-controlled Legislature intended.”
As a statutory matter, it would appear DeSantis has put himself in a tough situation: He was provided resources to “facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.”
In this case, however, asylum seekers almost certainly weren’t “unauthorized aliens” under immigration laws, and “this state” referred to Florida, not Texas.
The Republican governor, seven weeks before Election Day in the Sunshine State, hasn’t offered a detailed defense of his gambit, and what DeSantis has pitched has been unpersuasive.