Texas sheriff files criminal case over DeSantis flights to Martha’s Vineyard

Sheriff recommends charges over flights arranged by Florida governor to deport 49 South American migrants to wealthy island

A Texas sheriff’s office has recommended criminal charges over flights that the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, arranged to deport 49 South American migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts, last year.

In a statement on Monday, the Bexar county sheriff’s office said it had filed a criminal case with the local district attorney over the flight. The Bexar county sheriff, Javier Salazar, has previously said the migrants were “lured under false pretenses” into traveling to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy liberal island.

The recommendation comes after the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, threatened DeSantis with kidnapping charges on Monday, after Florida flew a group of people seeking asylum to Sacramento. It was the second time in four days Florida had used taxpayer money to fly asylum seekers to California.

“The charge filed is unlawful restraint and several accounts were filed, both misdemeanor and felony,” the Bexar county sheriff’s office said in a statement provided to KSAT News.

“At this time, the case is being reviewed by the DA’s office. Once an update is available, it will be provided to the public.”

DeSantis arranged for two planes to carry migrants, including women and children, to Martha’s Vineyard in September 2022.

The groups were told they would have jobs and housing if they boarded the planes, but in reality officials in Martha’s Vineyard had been given no advance notice of the arrival of the 49 people, most of whom had traveled from Venezuela.

DeSantis created an “urgent humanitarian situation” in deporting the migrants, officials said. The far-right Floridian, who announced he was running for president in May, was widely criticized for what was seen as a political stunt.

On Monday, Newsom called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” after Florida chartered a private jet and flew 16 South American people to Sacramento before abandoning them outside a church.

California’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, said the people may have been duped into boarding flights to the state. On Twitter, Newsom suggested the Florida governor could be subject to “kidnapping charges”.

DeSantis has made immigration one of the central issues of his political career.

In May, he signed a heavily criticized law which invalidated out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to undocumented immigrants and required companies with more than 25 members of staff to check employees’ immigration status.

The law also provides a specific fund to deport undocumented immigrants to other states.

After the law was signed by DeSantis the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino advocacy group, issued a travel advisory urging people not to travel to Florida.

• The subheading and text of this article were amended on 7 June 2023. Martha’s Vineyard is an island, not a town as an earlier version said.


Adam Gabbatt

The GuardianTramp

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