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Martha’s Vineyard immigration attorney says she is assisting Texas sheriff’s investigation

Immigration attorney Rachel M. Self spoke to reporters outside of St. Andrew's Parish House in Martha’s Vineyard last week.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

A Martha’s Vineyard immigration attorney who has been assisting the roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants flown to the island by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that she is providing information to a Texas sheriff investigating the movement of the migrants.

Rachel M. Self, who lives on the island and has a Boston-based law practice, said she received a phone call from Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Monday morning. That afternoon, Salazar said in a news briefing that his office will look into whether the migrants were “lured . . . under false pretenses” to Martha’s Vineyard, “where they were unceremoniously stranded.”

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“He’s very, very angry that this happened in his county,” Self said in an interview with the Globe . “He said it had nothing to do with politics; it had nothing to do with DeSantis. It had to do with individuals that he wanted to investigate that were in his county preying on the vulnerable.”

Self said Salazar, a Democrat, asked her to help provide information, and she offered to do anything she can to assist his investigation.

“I’m providing him as much information as I can regarding the people on the ground in Texas that were going around and kind of fishing for the people to load up the planes,” she said. “They were promised all kind of things. … ‘We’re going to take you here, and you’re going to go here, and you’re going to have permanent housing, and there’s going to be a job waiting for you, and we’ll teach you English.’”

But when they landed on the island, the migrants were ushered into vans and transported away from the airport. One group told Self that they were taken to a residential area and dropped off, told to ring a random doorbell and ask for help. The woman who answered the door didn’t speak Spanish and called someone to translate, which frightened the migrants, who walked away, they told Self.

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Self said she told the sheriff their story.

“He was just horrified,” she said. “He goes, ‘If that happened in Texas, it’d be very likely that you’d get shot.’”

Salazar told her the treatment of the migrants was unfair based on their circumstances, she said.

“He said, ‘They did everything right. They were paroled in. They had the paperwork. They were minding their own business. They were not committing crimes,’” Self said. “And he said he had a real problem with that.”

Self said she was first notified of the migrants’ arrival a short time after they landed last Wednesday evening and began meeting with them the next day. She is also assisting Lawyers for Civil Rights in a federal class action civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of the migrants and Alianza Americas, an organization a network of immigrant-led support organizations across the country.

She said the lawsuit, filed against DeSantis and other Florida officials, is intended to “prevent this from ever happening again.”

“We don’t necessarily want any governors, or secretaries of departments of transportation, or states, or their accomplices, or anybody to think that it’s OK to prey on vulnerable people, including women and children, and transporting them across state lines in political stunts,” she said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.