Migrants who landed in Martha’s Vineyard last week were targeted to board a plane in Texas in a manner that showed a deliberate effort to “usurp the federal government’s exclusive authority over immigration,” according to Lawyers for Civil Rightsa Boston-based group.
The civil rights group filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Jared Perdue, the state’s Department of Transportation secretary, the state of Florida and other accomplices for the unlawful relocation of immigrants through fraudulent means, according to Executive Director Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal.
Espinoza-Madrigal, staff attorney Mirian Albert and Alianza Americas Executive Director Oscar Chacón, held a virtual press conference on Wednesday to further explain the rationale for the lawsuit. Espinoza-Madrigal has called the lawsuit the first of its kind in the nation.
The Lawyers for Civil Rights has filed a series of constitutional and other claims against the defendants, including illegal seizure, false arrest, deprivation of liberty and discrimination claims under 14th Amendment equal protection principles.
The legal group is representing not only the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard last week, but all “similarly situated migrants” across the country who have been fraudulently induced by Gov. DeSantis to cross state lines through misrepresentations, Espinoza-Madrigal said.
“We also have a federal preemption claim which we are raising because the defendants specifically intervened in the orderly administration of federal immigration law,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.
Deliberate, intentional interference in ongoing immigration matters, according to Lawyers for Civil Rights
According to Espinoza-Madrigal, the defendants specifically targeted immigrants who had surrendered to, been screened and processed by federal officials. The migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard had received humanitarian parole and other forms of immigration statuses from those officials, and were under federal management with supervision appointments, ICE check-ins, and hearings already scheduled.
He called it a deliberate and intentional interference in ongoing immigration matters. The defendants tried to sabotage and derail the migrants from complying with federal immigration law as well as derailing the orderedly operation of the federal immigration system, he said.
Ability to proceed with lawsuit anonymously allowed in court ruling
The federal court on Wednesday granted the lawyer group’s motion to proceed anonymously because of hate messages and death threats received by staff at Lawyers for Civil Rights and Alianza Americas. Those messages were also directed towards the migrants.
Espinoza-Madrigal called that decision the first victory for the migrants who “experienced human rights violations at the hands of government officials.”
Migrants presented with shiny red folders, asked for photographs of documents
Migrants were given brochures in shiny red folders. The brochures contained information about services available to them as immigrants. But the majority of the Martha’s Vineyard migrants have humanitarian parole, which means they weren’t eligible for the services listed, according to Espinoza-Madrigal.
Consent forms signed by the migrants did not have material information about how the relocation would occur or where they would go, and portions of the form were not translated into Spanish, making informed consent impossible.
The migrants were specifically targeted, which is relevant to the equal protection claims raised in the lawsuit. Migrants were asked to give photographs of their immigration documents, as proof that they were Venezuelan.
“They were asking affected individuals to show their papers, clearly inquiring about immigration status, reviewing their immigration paperwork, and many times purporting to advise them on next steps, including telling them not to worry about immigration status, that they would receive immigration assistance and support in Massachusetts,” Espinoza-Madrigal.
Espinoza-Madrigal said it showed a deliberate effort to “usurp the federal government’s exclusive authority over immigration.”
Legal organizations in other states will be offered help, Lawyers for Civil Rights said
Lawyers for Civil Rights has promised to provide technical assistance to lawyers and legal organizations in other states should they choose to implement similar cases, Espinoza-Madrigal said.
“This has got to stop,” he said.
“We are heartbroken to see the way in which the pain of people is manipulated and used for political purposes,” said Chacón.
He said the country must have conversations about how to improve immigrant integration. US immigration policies are old, obsolete, inhumane and need to change, he said.
“We believe what’s been done is illegal and morally reprehensible,” Chacon said.
Lawyers see moral and legal responsibility to act after migrants arrive in Massachusetts
Albert said Lawyers for Civil Rights did not look for this fight, but were thrust into it by DeSantis. She called it a legal and moral responsibility to act when the migrants showed up in Massachusetts, she added.
The migrants currently being housed at Joint Base Cape Cod will have immigration attorneys assigned to them to ensure they go through the federal immigration process properly.
Doe defendants listed in the lawsuit will be named when more information is collected. The woman known only as “Perla,” who migrants claim lured them with $10 MacDonald’s gift cards, free shoes, and promises of housing, jobs and immigration assistance, is one of those defendants.
“We are in the middle of the election campaign,” said Chacon. “Sadly that’s part of what’s going on.”
He called for a new set of immigration policies because those currently on the books date back to 1951. He called for a modernization of the country’s humanitarian laws as well.
“Hopefully the legal system can help us get there,” he said.
Contact Denise Coffey at dcoffey@dcoff[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.
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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Lawsuit filed on behalf of migrants alleges targeted effort, interference
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