First of its kind lawsuit filed on behalf of Martha's Vineyard migrants

Denise Coffey
Cape Cod Times

Venezuelan immigrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard last week — after getting false promises of jobs, housing and other resources, according to the individuals — have filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his associates, according to court records.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, called the class action lawsuit the first of its kind in the nation. 

Espinoza-Madrigal said the suit represents all "similarly stranded migrants across country who have been fraudulently induced by Gov. DeSantis to cross state lines through misrepresentations."

The lawsuit seeks a nationwide injunction to block DeSantis from engaging in these activities which endanger human lives, including women and children, Espinoza-Madrigal said.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Boston alleges that DeSantis and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue engaged in "a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting [the migrants] for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests." 

Alianza Americas, Yanet Doe, Pablo Doe and Jesus Doe filed the suit on behalf of themselves and others “similarly situated,” the document read. They seek punitive and compensatory damages.

The suit claims that the defendants made false promises about jobs, housing, educational opportunities and other assistance if plaintiffs and class members were willing to board the airplanes.  

The suit claims DeSantos specifically intervened in the orderly administration of federal immigration law. By targeting immigrants "who had surrendered themselves to federal officials, who had been screened and processed by federal officials, who had received humanitarian parole and other forms of immigration statuses from federal officials and who were under federal management with supervision appointments, ICE check-ins and hearings scheduled indicates deliberate and intentional interference in ongoing immigration matters," Espinoza-Madrigal said.

On Wednesday, the federal court granted a motion to proceed anonymously because of the death threats migrants were receiving.  

Yanet Doe, Pablo Doe and Jesus Doe are from Venezuela. They were induced to board planes in Texas for Martha’s Vineyard, the court document reads. 

Defendant Doe refers to the woman known only as “Perla,” who targeted the migrants in San Antonio and persuaded them to take the flight to Martha’s Vineyard, according to Espinoza-Madrigal. . 

The consent forms migrants signed did not have material needed for them to make informed consent, nor were they completely translated into Spanish, the language spoken by the migrants, according to Espinoza-Madrigal. 

The migrants were asked to give photos of their immigration documents. They were told their immigration proceedings would be handled in Massachusetts, Espinoza-Madrigal said. 

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The three Doe defendants allege that Perla and as many as four other people, who were unnamed, told them they wanted to help the migrants. Perla asked to see their immigration papers and "if they fit the bill" the migrants were taken to a hotel where they were sequestered until there were enough people the fill the planes, the lawsuit claims.

Perla asked Jesus Doe and others to sign a document in order to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card. The document was not completely translated into Spanish. A  paragraph about liability and transport specifying that the journey would take place from Texas to Massachusetts was not translated at all, the suit says.  

The suit alleges the defendants' conduct was inhumane and violated protections afforded the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary, injunctive relief.

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What is Alianza Americas

Alianza Americas is a network of 53-member organizations from across the country whose goal is to promote policies that are humane, just and equitable, according to court documents. 

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About 50 migrants landed unexpectedly at the Vineyard airport on Sept. 14 with no place to stay or any immediate connections to work on the island. They were voluntarily moved to Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne on Friday, where many remain. Several social services and immigration service agencies have reported helping the individuals with needs such as translation and legal services.

Bexar County, Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar is investigating DeSantis

Texas law enforcement authorities said Monday they are opening an investigation into how 48 Venezuelan migrants were “lured” last week to board flights from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha‘s Vineyard under a plan orchestrated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for “nothing more … than a photo op.”

“Our understanding is that a Venezuelan migrant was paid what we would call a bird dog fee to recruit approximately 50 migrants from the area around a migrant Resource Center … in San Antonio,” Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar told reporters.

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On Friday, DeSantis told a group of supporters that he was targeting migrants who want to come to Florida and sending them to "sanctuary jurisdictions." He pledged to spend the $12 million appropriated by the Florida Legislature to relocate migrants. 

According to the lawsuit, the charter flights cost $615,000, about $12,300 per person.

The State of Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation, and four other unnamed individuals who assisted in the alleged ruse are named in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.  

The suit asks the court to award compensatory, emotional distress, and punitive damages to the individual plaintiffs and the class in an amount to be determined at trial, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other relief deemed proper. 

The Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts. Espinoza-Madrigal said the group would provide technical assistance to lawyers and legal organizations dealing with similar situations across the U.S. 

Contact Denise Coffey at