Rights Behind the Headlines: Migrants arrive at Martha's Vineyard airport, sent from Texas by DeSantis

Rights Behind the Headlines is a new blog series from the ACLU of Florida that dispels misinformation and gives Floridians critical information about the most pressing issues facing our state. Read the full series at aclufl.org/rightsbehindtheheadlines  

Today, we’re dissecting Gov. DeSantis’ political stunt in which he sent asylum seekers to Massachusetts. Read the headline from the New York Times here: Florida Flies 2 Planeloads of Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard

Over the past year, Republican governors in the South have transported migrants seeking asylum at the border to Northern cities. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has led the trend, creating an entire system bussing migrants to Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

During a press conference in late September, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for flying to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts a group of 50 Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers, including families with young children–who were reportedly misled with false promises of housing and jobs. Americans across the country and the international community have denounced DeSantis’ move as a deceptive and cruel political stunt.

First, the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard were picked up in San Antonio, Texas, and were never scheduled to arrive in Florida. They were lured with the false promise of expedited work permits and never told exactly where they were going. Families with children were assured they would receive assistance when they arrived. None of that was true. Instead, people working on behalf of the DeSantis administration gathered them on a plane with those false promises but without any plans for shelter, food or medical care. DeSantis’ proxies never alerted any first responders, members of the Massachusetts government, or the nonprofit community, which is usually instrumental in providing resources for asylum seekers, about the flight. The migrants arrived in Martha’s Vineyard alone and without help, without informed consent, coordination, or planning.

Florida state records show that Vertol Systems, the airline company used in this plot, received two payments of $615,000 and $950,000. This means that Gov. DeSantis used over $1.5 million taxpayer dollars to pull off this scheme, going out of his way to put families that had no contact with Florida at risk, by tapping into a $12 million fund that had been unnecessarily appropriated to transport migrants out of Florida.

DeSantis continues to target and denigrate immigrants for his own political gain. Yet, migrants are intrinsic to the fabric of Florida, making up 20 percent of all Floridians.

This much we know: the children and families transported in buses and flights have sought asylum. Asylum is a lawful process protected under both United States and international law. Seeking asylum is a legal right that is essential for people fleeing persecution, including violence and abuse, in their home countries. Asylum seekers, like those who were fraudulently lured  onto these flights, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Unlike Gov. DeSantis, the community in Martha’s Vineyard fortunately came together to support the families and mitigate further trauma. They offered them temporary shelter, food and water, and legal assistance.

The flights are now the subject of a criminal investigation and three lawsuits. One lawsuit was filed by several of the migrants, who are represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights, and another was filed by State Senator Jason Pizzo (in his personal capacity) who challenges DeSantis for misusing state funds for the flights.

The Governor exploited human beings lawfully seeking asylum to appeal to his political base and divide Floridians. He was also attempting to distract from his many policy failures on the real issues impacting Floridians, including desperately underfunded public schools, the elimination of access to abortion care, a lack of gun safety measures, the number of teacher vacancies across the state, the rising costs of housing, making Florida schools a political battlefield by banning conversations about race and gender discrimination, and blatant discrimination against LGBTQ+ communities.

Across Florida and the country, the message from Americans is clear: no one should be used as pawns, especially not for political gain. 

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and it’s past time politicians like Gov. DeSantis stop scapegoating immigrants to further divide our state and country. Florida’s communities thrive when all people seeking a better life are welcomed.