Probe opened into Florida’s ‘luring’ of migrants onto planes

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Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis

swalsh@miamiherald.com

Authorities in Texas have opened a criminal investigation into Gov. Ron DeSantis’ operation to fly roughly 50 Venezuela migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said in a Monday news release that his office is investigating whether the migrants were the victims of a crime.

“The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation into the migrants who were lured from the Migrant Resource Center, located in Bexar County, TX, and flown to Florida, where they were ultimately left to fend for themselves in Martha’s Vineyard, MA,” said Salazar, referring to an aid center for migrants in San Antonio, which is in Bexar County.

Salazar said his office was working with private attorneys for the migrants, as well as advocacy groups.

“We are also preparing to work with any federal agencies that have concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise,” added Salazar, who is a Democrat.

Several migrants said that a woman known as “Perla” approached them outside the migrant center and offered them jobs and assistance if they flew to Massachusetts. Claims of employment and other opportunities turned out to be false as those officials on Martha’s Vineyard were unprepared for their arrival Wednesday.

In addition, brochures provided to the migrants said they could receive cash assistance and employment services in Massachusetts. The brochures included the phone number and website of the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants. The office said it did not print the brochures, which were shared with the Herald by Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based legal group representing some of the migrants.

“Perla’s” full name and connections have not yet been publicly revealed.

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Courtesy brochure Lawyers for Civil Rights

DeSantis has taken responsibility for the two charter flights, saying they were conducted with Florida taxpayer money. All the migrants boarded in San Antonio, although the planes stopped in Florida’s Panhandle to refuel.

In response to a request for comment, Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis’ deputy press secretary did not respond with words.

READ MORE: ‘Easy pickings’: In Texas town where Martha’s Vineyard ordeal began, few options for migrants

Instead, he emailed a screenshot of a news story with the headline: “Bexar County Sheriff Salazar says Biden admin’s handling of immigration ‘isn’t working.’ “

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

This story was originally published September 19, 2022 6:02 PM.

Profile Image of Sarah Blaskey

Sarah Blaskey is an award-winning investigative reporter for the Miami Herald and the data specialist for the investigations team. She is a co-author of “The Grifter’s Club: Trump, Mar-a-Lago, and the Selling of the Presidency” and holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.

Profile Image of Nicholas Nehamas

Nicholas Nehamas is an investigative reporter at the Miami Herald, where he was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that broke the Panama Papers in 2016. He and his Herald colleagues were also named Pulitzer finalists in 2019 for the series “Dirty Gold, Clean Cash.” He is the co-author of two books: “The Grifter’s Club: Trump, Mar-a-Lago, and the Selling of the Presidency” and “Dirty Gold: The Rise and Fall of an International Smuggling Ring.” He joined the Herald in 2014.
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