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Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop on the Keep Florida Free Tour at the Horsepower Ranch in Geneva. DeSantis faces former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the general election for Florida Governor in November. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As Migrants Confirm They Were Misled, Calls for Prosecution of DeSantis and Abbott Grow

More than just a political "stunt," said one critic, this is "about inhumane and illegal conduct toward vulnerable people that is an affront to the values of every decent human being."

Jon Queally

As Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas continued over the weekend to defend their plot to put refugees and migrants from Latin America on planes and busses to northern cities and communities, critics of the 'cruel' and 'immoral' actions have said the two should face investigation and ultimately criminal prosecution for misleading and mistreating the people at the center of their political gamesmanship.

Amid confirmed reports that many of the migrants sent to Martha's Vineyard last week by DeSantis had been misled by officials in Florida about the nature of their trip, immigration rights legal aides have said they intend to push for legal action to stop such abuses. As the New York Times reports:

The lawyers said they would seek an injunction in federal court early next week to stop the flights of migrants to cities around the country, alleging that the Republican governor had violated due process and the civil rights of the migrants flown from Texas to the small island off the coast of Massachusetts.

"They were told, 'You have a hearing in San Antonio, but don't worry, we'll take you to Boston'" said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director for Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) Boston. He said dozens of the migrants had told his team they only had been informed midair that they were going to land in tony Martha's Vineyard rather than Boston.

Representing more than 30 of those people brought to Martha's Vineyard with free legal assistance, LCR said in a statement Saturday that it has "called upon U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to formally open criminal investigations into the political stunt that brought two planeloads of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard earlier this week." 

Detailing "how its clients were induced to board airplanes and cross state lines under false pretenses," the legal aid group said that only after the planes landed did the immigrants "learn that the offers of assistance had all been a ruse to exploit them for political purposes." 

"Particularly given the deliberate, intentional, and concerted nature of the interference by State actors into federal immigration enforcement," LCR said "a strong and coordinated federal response is required."

On Saturday, a second bus from Texas loaded with migrants arrived at Vice President Kamala's Harris' D.C. residence. According to the Texas Tribune:

The bus arrived before daylight outside the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.; a video shared by an NBC News journalist showed migrants wearing masks and carrying pillows walking off the bus and into a city that has declared a public health emergency due to the influx of migrants. A spokesperson for Abbott confirmed that the bus came from Texas. 

On Friday, Abbott's office said it had sent 8,000 migrants to the nation's capital since announcing his busing policy in the spring. The state has also sent 2,500 migrants to New York City and 600 to Chicago. Abbott began targeting the vice president's residency this week after she appeared on Meet the Press and said the border was secure, stoking conservative anger.

In an interview with VICE on Friday, Harris said the behavior of Abbott and DeSantis was a "dereliction of duty" as elected public servants.

"They're playing games," she said. "These are political stunts with real human beings who are fleeing harm."

While some legal experts contend that Abbott and DeSantis have acted within their authority when shipping refugees and vulnerable immigrants across the country to score political points, demands for prosecution or at least a criminal probe by the Department of Justice have come from California Governor Gavin Newsom and others.

Writing in Jacobin magazine, former Bernie Sanders presidential campaign manager Jeff Weaver argued that DeSantis should be prosecuted for his unlawful conduct and that the American people—especially given the Florida Republican's presidential ambitions—should recognize just how abhorrent this behavior is.

"Like Donald Trump's family separation policy, this issue runs much deeper" than any particular position a lawmaker or politician has one immigration policy. "It's about inhumane and illegal conduct toward vulnerable people that is an affront to the values of every decent human being," wrote Weaver. He continued:

Progressives owe the country—which endured four years of lawlessness under Trump—to tell the truth about Ron DeSantis—an aspirant to the highest office in the land. He has demonstrated that, like Trump, he is willing to break the law to achieve political power.

What DeSantis did is not a political "stunt." It's a clear warning that, as president, he, like his Republican predecessor, would view the rule of law as a principle that is expendable when political expediency calls. And it's a crime. He should be prosecuted for it.

In an opinion column that appeared at Common Dreams on Saturday, progressive radio host and author Thom Hartmann said the behavior of Abbott and DeSantis harkens back to previous racist episodes in the nation's past and that the two Republican governors "should be looking at jail time or serious civil fines for engaging in this heartless, racist sport."

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