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Migrants on Martha's Vineyard

A group of migrants huddle on a sidewalk in front of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on Martha's Vineyard on September 15, 2022. (Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Mass. Lawmaker Demands Federal Human Trafficking Probe Into DeSantis

"Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking," said state Rep. Dylan Fernandes.

Julia Conley

Massachusetts state Rep. Dylan Fernandes said Sunday that he has made progress in his push for a federal investigation into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to send four dozen migrants to Martha's Vineyard last week, sharing on social media that the U.S. attorney for his state is also calling for a probe.

Fernandes, a Democrat, called the Republican governor's actions "morally criminal" and warned, "There are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking."

He added that U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins is also "pushing for a response from the DOJ."

Fernandes was among the local officials who sprang to action last week after two flights carrying nearly 50 migrants, mainly from Colombia and Venezuela, arrived unannounced at Martha's Vineyard Airport.

"As soon as you start treating human beings as undesirable problems to dump on others, you are in very dangerous territory."

The planes had originated in Texas but it was quickly determined that DeSantis' office had arranged the flights as part of what a spokesperson called Florida's "transportation" program for migrants.

DeSantis is one of several Republican governors who have sent refugees and immigrants to heavily Democratic states as they complain about Democrats' immigration policies.

The migrants who were sent to Martha's Vineyard last week received a warm welcome from residents before being sent to a military base in Cape Cod to ensure they would have sufficient housing.

They reportedly boarded the flights in Texas under false pretenses, having been told that job prospects and housing were waiting for them at their destination, which they only learned was Martha's Vineyard when they were mid-air.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also called for a federal probe last week, and Boston-based organization Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is offering pro bono legal services to the migrants, wrote to Rollins and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey over the weekend.

"While we are working to protect our clients' rights in immigration proceedings and exploring remedies for civil rights violations, we also strongly believe that criminal laws were broken by the perpetrators of this stunt," said the group.

Critics, including some immigration attorneys, have said the transporting of the migrants—some of whom have told reporters that they were lured onto their flights by a woman named "Perla," who paid them $200 and demanded that they sign a liability waiver—amounts to "kidnapping" and human trafficking.

On Monday, University of New England philosopher professor David Livingstone Smith cautioned against labeling the transport of misled migrants across the country as a "political stunt" by Republicans.

That term diminishes the "moral seriousness and the possible future implications of what they are doing," Smith told The Guardian.

"In effect," he added, "DeSantis is intimating that this is an ethnic cleansing operation, that he will take these so-called undesirables and pick them up and dump them in the lands of [his] political enemies."

"Of course this is not genocide, but it is somewhat reminiscent of awful things that have happened in the past," Smith said. "As soon as you start treating human beings as undesirable problems to dump on others, you are in very dangerous territory."

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