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What we know about Perla, the woman at the center of the transfer of migrants from Texas to Florida to Martha’s Vineyard

Volunteers gather in a circle before helping Venezuelan migrants board buses outside of St. Andrew's Parish House in Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 16, 2022.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Questions continue to swirl about a woman who identified herself as “Perla” and recruited Venezuelan migrants for a journey last week that took them from Texas to Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, where they were cared for until a temporary shelter could be opened at a Cape Cod military base.

Here’s what we know — and what we don’t know — about Perla, a central character in the migrant transfer bankrolled by the state of Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is a possible 2024 presidential candidate.

Perla’s interactions with the migrants

A woman who identified herself as Perla approached migrants at a McDonald’s parking lot in San Antonio recently, the Globe reported in collaboration with the Texas Tribune on Friday. She was described as a tall, blond woman who spoke to the migrants in broken Spanish.

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What was her pitch?

The woman told the migrants, many of whom were struggling financially and waiting for their immigration cases to resolve, that she could offer a free trip to Massachusetts and a guarantee of work, according an account provided by one migrant, Eduardo Linares, who said he rejected Perla’s offer in Texas.

Other corroborating accounts

Other migrants besides Linares have said they were approached by Perla. The Globe last week interviewed a migrant named Alejandro, who said that “Mrs. Perla” offered him “three months of rent, work, and said they were going to put our papers in order.” She took him and other migrants to a San Antonio hotel for four days, gave them meals, and appeared to prepare their paperwork, Alejandro said. Afterward, he and other migrants were put on a plane and flown to Martha’s Vineyard.

On Friday, the San Antonio Report, another publication in Texas, interviewed a 27-year-old Venezuelan migrant named Emmanuel who said a woman named “Perla” paid him $200 to recruit others to board the flights.

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Emmanuel said he gave her contact information for about 10 migrants who were told the woman wanted to send them to “sanctuary states” with more resources.

Did Perla break the law?

If the woman who identified herself to the migrants as Perla did, in fact, falsely promise rent and work at their final destination, that could constitute a criminal act, legal experts have said.

“To my mind, it would be a crime only if somebody actually promised something that was crucial to the decision by the migrants to get on the plane,” Roslindale immigration lawyer Eoin Reilly said in a recent Globe interview.

“For example, if they boarded because they would indeed get three months free rent and job placement,” he added. “If that was the deciding factor to get on the plane, then that does strike me as malfeasance.”

That assessment was echoed Saturday by Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, who sent letters to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Rachael Rollins, the state’s US attorney, asking them to open criminal probes into the operation that transported the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

In his letters to Healey and Rollins, Espinoza-Madrigal wrote that the migrants were “induced to board airplanes and cross state lines under false pretenses” and only learned during the flight that they were headed to Martha’s Vineyard and not to Boston as they had been told.

“Individuals, working in concert with the Florida Governor, made numerous false promises to our clients, including of work opportunities, schooling for their children, and immigration assistance, in order to induce them to travel,” Espinoza-Madrigal wrote.

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Key questions, and a reward for information

The woman’s full name and employer have yet to be disclosed.

DeSantis took credit for the charter flights but denied the migrants were misled, asserting during a news conference Friday that they acted voluntarily, CNN reported.

Domingo Garcia, national president of the Washington, D.C.-based League of United Latin American Citizens, said Saturday that his group is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to Perla’s identification, arrest, and conviction.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.