Immigration attorneys on Wednesday criticized the purported consent form that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s office said roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants voluntarily signed in Texas before boarding chartered flights to Martha’s Vineyard last week, calling the brief document legally flawed.
The form, which DeSantis’s office provided to media outlets Tuesday night, was headlined “Official Consent to Transport” and said the travelers agreed to be relocated “to locations outside of Texas, to locations in sanctuary states.” It was written in English and partially translated into Spanish.
“I agree to hold the benefactor or its designated representatives harmless of all liability arising out of or in any way relating to any injuries and damages that may occur during the agreed transport to locations outside of Texas until the final destination of Massachusetts,” it stated. The Spanish translation of the form did not mention Massachusetts.
DeSantis’s office cited the form as evidence the migrants were not misled into traveling from a San Antonio migrant resource center with false promises of work and living arrangements, as a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of the migrants alleged. DeSantis chartered two flights to bring the migrants to Massachusetts and said last week it was ”just the beginning” of efforts to relocate people crossing the border to protest the Biden administration’s border policy.
This week, DeSantis chartered two flights carrying migrants, the majority of whom are believed to be from Venezuela,
But Rachel M. Self, an immigration lawyer with offices in Boston and Weymouth who is representing some of the migrants, said the form does not begin to pass legal muster.
“Considering that as valid, informed consent is ludicrous,” Self said. “Anyone can clearly see the entire English text is not translated into Spanish.”
Labeling the document an official consent form “does not make it so,” she said.
“If I put a fat-free label on a pound of butter, does it make it fat free?” she asked.
Migrants were told in Texas that they’d have jobs, free housing, and even English classes if they agreed to go on the journey, she said. None of those things are mentioned in the consent form.
“I have never seen a form like this in any of the 19 years of doing this work that I’ve been doing,” Self said. “I just think it’s very important for people to understand and use their common sense. Look at the form. Look at the vulnerable state of [the migrants] who get on buses under false pretenses to get on that plane. When in the history of all mankind has an individual who has induced a human being onto a mode of transport with false promises been good for the people in the transport?”
DeSantis’s office released the form as the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights sued DeSantis, a possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate, and others involved in the relocation of the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, alleging the officials ran an illegal scheme that exploited vulnerable immigrants with false promises of cash payments and job opportunities.
The class action lawsuit said the relocation was a “premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting” the vulnerability of immigrants who fled to the United States “in a desperate attempt to protect themselves and their families from gang, police, and state-sponsored violence.”
The migrants received emergency shelter and care on Martha’s Vineyard before they were transported to temporary housing on a military base on Cape Cod.
The suit was filed in US District Court in Boston on behalf of the migrants and Alianza Americas, a network of immigrant-led support organizations across the country. It named as defendants DeSantis and other Florida officials, along with five “unidentified accomplices.”
In response to the lawsuit, DeSantis’ office accused the lawyers of “political theater” and blamed the underlying immigration problems on the “Biden administration’s reckless border policies.”
“The transportation of the immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was done on a voluntary basis,” his office asserted. “The immigrants were homeless, hungry, and abandoned — and these activists didn’t care about them then. Florida’s program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these individuals opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts.”
The lawsuit alleged that people working with the Florida officials approached migrants near the resource center in San Antonio and other locations, provided inducements such as $10 McDonald’s gift cards, and made false promises of jobs, housing, and educational opportunities to persuade them to board airplanes.
“It was a bait and switch, classic,” Self said. “There are serious consequences here because these were people and children and families.”
The defendants allegedly spent $615,000 on private chartered planes for the immigrants, telling them falsely that they were traveling to Boston or Washington, D.C., the lawsuit alleged.
When the Venezuelans arrived on Martha’s Vineyard with no advance notice and no support services awaiting them, they tried to call the people in Texas who had persuaded them to get on the planes but were unable to reach them, documents show.
The relocation has further inflamed an already tense national debate about immigration policies, with Republican governors of border states arguing their communities are being overwhelmed. New data show that border arrests surpassed 2 million in a single year for the first time.
Susan Church, an immigration lawyer based in Cambridge, said by email that the form provided by DeSantis’s office is “legally useless and invalid as it was induced by fraud, not fully translated, and obtained by deceit.”
“Why would they ask the immigrants to sign this unless they were concerned about their actions in the first place?” she asked. “I have absolutely never seen anyone sign this type of form before.”
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said “the consent forms themselves are further evidence against the defendants.
“They clearly show that material information about how the relocation would occur, where it would go, was not included in the forms, especially in the Spanish translation portion of the form,” he said in a news conference about the lawsuit. The form was not fully translated. It was missing material information that would have been needed for our clients to make an informed decision and to provide consent.”
Miki Kawashima Matrician, an immigration lawyer who serves as vice chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s New England Executive Board, said she, too, had never heard of migrants being asked to sign consent forms.
“Under these circumstances, it is puzzling why DeSantis would rely on these signed consent forms, when the consent was based on false terms,” Matrician said by email.
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.