IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Immigrant advocates challenge constitutionality of DeSantis' migrant flights

The Southern Poverty Law Center and immigration advocacy groups are suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state transportation secretary for flying migrants to Massachusetts.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis during a gubernatorial debate in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Oct. 24.Crystal Vander Weit / Pool/TCPalm.com via AP file

The Southern Poverty Law Center and immigrant advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday over his flights of migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, in September.

The plaintiffs, three Florida nonprofits that support immigrant communities, including the Florida Immigrant Coalition, argue that the actions of DeSantis and Florida Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue were unconstitutional because they usurped "the federal government’s sole role in regulating and enforcing immigration law, muddying an already complex area of law, leading to chaos and confusion."

Additionally, they allege DeSantis' administration violated the Fourteenth Amendment "through its state-sponsored harassment of immigrants based on race, color, and national origin. "

Venezuelan migrants gather at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal
Venezuelan migrants gather at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal in Marthas Vineyard, Mass. on Sept. 16.Carlin Stiehl / The Boston Globe via Getty Images file

This is only the most recent lawsuit filed against DeSantis over the flights. Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based network of migrant-led organizations, and three migrants who landed in Massachusetts on flights filed a class-action lawsuit in September accusing DeSantis, a Republican, and other state officials of executing “a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme ... for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests."

Those plaintiffs also said the state program violated constitutional protections as well as several federal statutes, and they asked the court to block DeSantis and others from “inducing immigrants to travel across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation.”

DeSantis pursued the flights as part of his effort to highlight illegal immigration and has insisted that no laws were broken under the $12 million relocation program.

Javier Salazar, the sheriff in Bexar County, Texas, opened a criminal investigation into DeSantis' move in September, saying the nearly 50 migrants who were flown to Massachusetts appeared to have been "lured under false pretenses."

“They were promised work,” he said. “They were promised the solution to several of their problems.”

The asylum-seekers, most of them Venezuelan, were then taken to the posh Massachusetts island “for little more than a photo op or a video op, and they were unceremoniously stranded in Martha’s Vineyard,” Salazar said.

DeSantis' immigration move escalated a tactic first used by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has sent thousands of migrants to New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., liberal strongholds that bill themselves as “sanctuary cities” for immigrants. The moves aim to highlight what Abbott and DeSantis say are the lax and ineffective immigration policies of Democrats.

“Obviously, it’s sad that Martha’s Vineyard people deported them the next day, DeSantis said of the migrants he sent to Massachusetts in September. "They could have absorbed this. They chose not to. But what it shows is if 50 was a burden on one of the richest places in our country, what about all these other communities that have been overrun with hundreds or thousands?”