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Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said Monday he’s opened a criminal investigation into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s political stunt of flying 48 immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard last week.
The group of Venezuelans had been at the Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio when they were “lured” under “false pretenses” into traveling to Florida, then the wealthy enclave of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Salazar said in a news conference. They were promised work, schooling for their children, and other opportunities, but once they arrived at Martha’s Vineyard, they were left to fend for themselves.
Salazar said he is working with private attorneys representing the immigrants and advocacy organizations to determine if they were victims of a crime, though he did not immediately say what law he believed was violated. He noted, however, that seeking asylum is part of the legal immigration system.
“What infuriates me the most about this case is here we have 48 people that are already on hard times,” Salazar said. “They are here legally in our country at that point. They have every right to be where they are and I believe that they were preyed upon … to be just exploited and hoodwinked.”
DeSantis is just the latest governor to take part in this kind of stunt. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been busing migrants from Texas to liberal cities since April in an attempt at immigration enforcement. Most recently, a bus of immigrants arrived at Vice President Kamala Harris’s house in Washington, DC.
Neither DeSantis’s nor Abbott’s offices immediately returned a request for comment on Monday. Salazar didn’t address Abbott’s actions at the news conference on Monday, and he didn’t name DeSantis — though he said the sheriff’s office has already identified “persons of interest” in their new investigation.
“When you’re playing with human lives, with people who are already in a desperate situation, people that, again, had every right to be where they were but were lured under false pretenses, that does tend to bother me quite a bit,” he said.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, an advocacy group in Boston, has also asked the federal government and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to formally open criminal investigations, the group said in a news release on Saturday.
“Particularly given the deliberate, intentional, and concerted nature of the interference by State actors into federal immigration enforcement, LCR emphasizes that a strong and coordinated federal response is required,” the news release said.
As much outrage as the stunts have sparked, some advocates say the governors are inadvertently helping immigrants.
Abel Nuñez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, one of the organizations that help immigrants that were dropped off at DC’s Union Station, previously told BuzzFeed News that the immigrants are typically happy and thankful for the free ride.
“It’s counterintuitive,” he said. “Yes, Abbott is making a point, sure, but this will encourage people on the buses to tell their networks back home, ‘Hey, go to Texas.'”
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