Migrant who recruited others for Martha’s Vineyard flights explains exactly how he was misled

A man who recruited Venezuelan migrants later sent to Martha’s Vineyard said he was misled to lure them into the political scheme.

Migrants who boarded the now infamous flights to Martha’s Vineyard from San Antonio, Texas, earlier this month were given $10 McDonald’s gift cards and the promise that their children would be taken care of upon arrival, a fellow migrant and recruiter, who wished to remain anonymous, told CNN.

The individual told CNN that he was approached by a woman named Perla, who gave him clothes and food so he would join the scheme in which 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants landed unannounced on the wealthy island. The man said he was unaware of the political stunt behind his recruitment and that Perla had promised him the migrants would have a better future in Massachusetts.

“She had told me that the people who were going to Massachusetts, before I sent them, she had told me that they were going to receive them. They were going to be given shelter, a place to stay. They were going to help them with the language, and those who had children, they were going to study,” the man told CNN.

“I never, ever knew that (it) was a governor or politician ... So my only will has always been to help people.”

The man, very aware himself of the challenges that come with finding opportunities in the US, said he was motivated by the prospect of giving stability to fellow migrants.

According to The Washington Post, migrants who were lured into the scheme were being ordered out of the shelters and were not allowed to work legally.

“She took them to a hotel. At the hotel, I realised that they were being treated well,” the recruiter recounted to CNN.

“She said she would hire me and give me some of her cards. I distributed those cards, based on the information, which was that we would send them to a sanctuary place,” he said. “In addition to that, until the flight would leave we would take them to a hotel where, as I explained to you, they were provided services.”

But once the migrants landed on Martha’s Vineyard in the last stage of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ political stunt, Perla’s philanthropy turned into dismissal, the man said.

When he brought up the migrants’ concerns to her, she allegedly told the man that the migrants were Massachusetts’ responsibility.

According to CNN, Perla sent a voicemail to the man telling him that the migrants were “going to have a much better life than here or anywhere else.” Following the public debacle and criticism of the stunt that was covered by nationwide media, she warned him not to speak to reporters.

Migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard on 14 September (AP)
Migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard on 14 September (AP)

The group of migrants have sued Mr DeSantis and his administration, claiming they were victims of a “fraudulent and discriminatory” scheme. The class action lawsuit comes as at least one law enforcement agency, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, is investigating the governor’s plans for allegedly “luring” migrants with false promises of employment and financial assistance.

Reports of a second flight of migrants headed to Delaware emerged last week, but were later dismissed by Mr DeSantis’ administration. However, one migrant in San Antonio told the Miami-Herald that they were lured to a scheduled flight before it was abruptly cancelled.

Meanwhile, Mr DeSantis and his aides have repeatedly defended sending migrants to Democratic-leading states and cities in protest of what they characterise as President Biden’s “open border” policy.

A Venezuelan migrant gestures a thumbs up  to reporters covering DeSantis’ political stunt (AP)
A Venezuelan migrant gestures a thumbs up to reporters covering DeSantis’ political stunt (AP)

In a letter to the Department of Justice last week, dozens of members of Congress called for an official investigation to determine whether Mr DeSantis broke any federal laws, The Guardian reported. At least one migrant, 27-year-old Emmanuel, told the San Antonio Report that he was paid $200 in cash to board the flight by Perla.

“As the federal government retains jurisdiction over cases that involve interstate travel, we request the Department of Justice investigate whether any federal funds were used to operate a fraudulent scheme and request the Department of Justice make a determination as to whether officials in Texas and Florida violated federal law,” the letter to the DoJ read.

A Florida state senator has also sued Mr DeSantis, his Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis to prevent future migrant flights.

Records show that Florida has paid more than $1.56m from DeSantis’ $12m state-funded plan to ship migrants to Democratic states and cities to an aviation firm.

The DoJ has yet to confirm an official investigation is underway. The Independent has reached out for comment.