Three migrants alleging they were misled into boarding flights destined for Martha’s Vineyard in a stunt orchestrated by Ron DeSantis have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Florida governor and other state officials seeking “compensatory, emotional distress, and punitive damages” for themselves and other migrants caught in the scheme.
The suit was brought by the group Alianza Americas, a coalition of migrant advocacy groups throughout the United States, and alleges that the defendants “intentionally conspired to confine the individual Plaintiffs to the aircraft that transported them to Martha’s Vineyard,” and that such actions impeded the migrants “participation in the federal immigration processes — to which they are constitutionally entitled,” as “they were transported thousands of miles away from where they needed to continue immigration proceedings.”
DeSantis last week sent 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard on two flights. Some migrants indicated to locals that they had no idea where they were and that they had been approached in San Antonio, Texas, with promises of transportation and assistance securing work permits and housing. The migrants were given misleading material regarding alleged benefits they could receive but that they were not actually eligible to receive. Legal experts told Rolling Stone that the stunt could constitute a violation of federal law.
The suit filed Tuesday includes detailed recollections of some of the ways the migrants on the flights were allegedly deceived. One migrant, listed as “Jesus Doe,” said he was approached outside of a shelter by “Defendant Doe #1” and told he could be taken to Washington, D.C., or Boston. He and a dozen other migrants were asked “to sign a document in order to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card. She did not explain what the document stated, and it was not completely translated to Spanish.”
The portions of the document waiving liability and informing the migrants their final destination was Massachusetts were not translated. Some migrants allege they did not learn they would be arriving in Martha’s Vineyard until shortly before landing.
The suit also alleges that the defendants “intentionally conspired to confine the individual Plaintiffs to the aircraft that transported them to Martha’s Vineyard,” and that such actions impeded the migrants “participation in the federal immigration processes — to which they are constitutionally entitled — was impeded, as they were transported thousands of miles away from where they needed to continue immigration proceedings.”
Additionally, the claim argues that DeSantis misappropriated Covid-19 funds that “originated from the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and [were] therefore subject to its use restrictions.
Georgetown Law Professor Heidi Li Feldman previously indicated to Rolling Stone that a lawsuit of this nature, alleging “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” was a possible avenue to secure restitution for the migrants. A similar lawsuit brought forth on behalf of migrants whose families were separated at the border under the Trump administration is pending but could result in millions of dollars in damages being paid out to migrant families.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has promised more flights of this nature in the future. The White House said on Tuesday that it has been coordinating with Delaware after receiving words that more flights could be headed to President Biden’s home state.