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Verdicts & Settlements

Federal Judges Says Asylum-Seekers Can Press Lawsuit Over Migrant Flights, Dismisses Florida Gov. DeSantis as Defendant

— April 5, 2024

Although Massachusetts-based U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs agreed to dismiss Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a defendant, she did not mince words in criticizing the role of different parties involved in the migrant-transportation scheme.

A federal judge in Massachusetts will allow nearly 50 migrants transported from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard to continue litigating claims against the company that arranged their travel.

In her decision, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs also dismissed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a defendant, along with several other members of his administration.

However, the dismissal of DeSantis on strictly jurisdictional grounds was made “without prejudice,” meaning that attorneys for the migrants may re-file their complaint against DeSantis at a later date.

As has reported before, Gov. DeSantis made national headlines after allegedly engineering and publicizing the migrant flights—a move DeSantis claimed was intended to shift the burden of undocumented immigration to Democratic-leaning states far from the U.S.-Mexico border, but which was criticized by immigrant rights activists for using asylum-seekers as props in an obvious political stunt.

Pictured: then-Rep. Rob DeSantis, current governor of Florida. Image via Flickr/user:Gage Skidmore. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The lawsuit, notes National Public Radio, was filed on behalf of three migrants from Venezuela, as well as an immigrant rights group. In court documents, they claimed that the defendants misled and deceived asylum-seekers into boarding flights they were told would take them to “a city in the Northeast,” where they would be provided with “stable housing, work, [and] educational resources.”

The three individual plaintiffs—identified as “Yanet, Pablo, and Jesus”—have since said that they knew they were being transported to Massachusetts, but were not given more specific information about their destination.

After arriving in Martha’s Vineyard—an island off the Massachusetts coast that is known for both its scenery and the immense wealth of many of its residents—videographers hired by the DeSantis administration recorded the migrants’ arrival and filmed them boarding vans.

However, the lawsuit alleges that local authorities and residents were never given advance notice of the migrants’ flight and arrival.

Burroughs, in her 77-page decision, did not mince words in condemning the conspiracy and criticizing its participants, including Florida state officials and Vertol, the private air transportation company that remains listed as a defendant.

“Vertol and the other Defendants were not legitimately enforcing any immigration laws,” Burroughs wrote. “The Court sees no legitimate purpose for rounding up highly vulnerable individuals on false pretenses and publicly injecting them into a divisive national debate.”

“Treating vulnerable individuals like plaintiffs in this way, as alleged and accepted as true for the purposes of the motion to dismiss,” Burroughs wrote, “is nothing short of extreme, outrageous, uncivilized, intolerable, and stunning.”

CNN reports that, despite having no advance notice of the migrants’ arrival, Martha’s Vineyard residents and local activists quickly rallied to assist stranded asylum-seekers, providing accommodation, food, and access to health care facilities.

DeSantis, for his part, has already posited Florida’s dismissal from the claim as a significant win for his administration.

“As we’ve always stated, the flights were conducted lawfully and authorized by the Florida Legislature,” DeSantis’ office told CNN in a statement released on Tuesday. “We look forward to Florida’s next illegal immigrant relocation flight, and we are glad to bring national attention to the crisis at the southern border.”


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