On a sunny September day, 49 migrants, most of them Venezuelan and several of them children, landed on Martha’s Vineyard tired, hungry, and more than a little bewildered about being on an island somewhere off the coast of Massachusetts.
It was a cruel political stunt orchestrated by Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and his team — even if it did have as close to a happy ending as things get these days. Vineyarders were warm and welcoming, state officials stepped in early to relocate the group to the mainland, and a cadre of civil rights lawyers documented the train of events by which the group had been recruited for a trip that brought them from San Antonio to these shores.
DeSantis himself solved part of the mystery when he acknowledged, days after their arrival here, his intention to prevent migrants from settling in Florida.
“If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” he said. “And, yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you.”
Now a Texas sheriff, whose office investigated the circumstances surrounding the Vineyard flights, is recommending that criminal charges be brought in the case — even as two new groups of asylum seekers from Texas arrived in Sacramento by private jet, again reportedly courtesy of the taxpayers of Florida.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, whose district includes San Antonio, made a recommendation to the local district attorney, making the case for both felony and misdemeanor charges of unlawful restraint. (Unlawful restraint of anyone under the age of 17 becomes a felony charge.)
It is still not known against whom those charges would be filed.
Salazar has long maintained that if the migrants were recruited onto those planes with false promises, that could be criminal. He noted in a January interview with The Washington Post that they had “already been taken advantage of” on the way to the United States by smugglers and cartels, and “now a government official is launching a million-dollar operation to come hunt them down and lie to them?” Salazar said. “No. Not in my county.”
Earlier this year Salazar signed certificates for all of the Vineyard migrants, most of whom remain in Massachusetts, making them eligible for so-called U-visas granted to victims of crimes, allowing them to stay in the country to provide testimony to authorities about illegal activities.
A civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of the Vineyard migrants is still pending in federal court in Boston, charging they were “lured onto two privately chartered planes in San Antonio, Texas, believing that they were headed to a large city in the Northeast where jobs, housing, and legal assistance would be waiting for them.”
“Those promises were false,” the suit says.
Named as defendants in the case were DeSantis; his chief of staff; Florida’s transportation secretary; the state’s public safety “czar”; Perla Huerta, the woman who allegedly recruited the migrants on the ground; and Florida-based Vertol Systems, the company contracted to fly the migrants to the Vineyard.
Now once again two groups of bewildered asylum seekers, this time from Colombia and Venezuela, have arrived four days apart in Sacramento, where they were left outside a Catholic church, which took the lead along with other faith-based groups in caring for them.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who met with the first group to land, said in a statement, “We are investigating the circumstances by which these individuals were brought to California. We are also evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants.”
He did confirm to a local TV station that “many were told that Vertol Systems would help them find jobs if they got on the plane” and that “many of them didn’t know where they were being taken and didn’t know where they were until they arrived.” He also confirmed that they were “in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the State of Florida.” Florida authorities acknowledged Tuesday night that they’d arranged the flights, which they claim all the migrants had agreed to.
While the California investigation is continuing, Bonta was clear about one thing: “State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting.”
Yes, just as morally bankrupt as the stunt that landed 49 human beings on an island in September.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.