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Alexandra R / Spoon
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Florida Governor Ron Desantis Now Under Criminal Investigation

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, is now facing backlash and a criminal investigation after what some are calling a “failed political stunt” this past Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, 48 Venezuelan migrants arrived by plane at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, as part of a tactic to protest President Biden’s administration’s liberal immigration policies. DeSantis quickly claimed responsibility for flying the migrants to the small town in Massachusetts, yet the migrants claimed they flew out of San Antonio, Texas around 8 a.m. that morning. A spokesperson for Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott stated that he was not involved in these initial plans, though he too has been sending migrants from the southern borders to Democrat-led cities to challenge the immigration policies set in place.

While it is still unclear exactly who paid for this event, DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske released a statement claiming that the Florida legislature allocated 12 million dollars to a state program that would transport “illegal immigrants” from the state. This statement has sparked outrage between the two political parties since it has been insinuated that DeSantis used taxpayer dollars to fund this mission.

While DeSantis was quick to take credit for what some are calling an inhumane political stunt, he is now facing even more backlash from many different people across the country. A representative of Martha’s Vineyard, Dylan Fernandes stated, “We have the governor of Florida … hatching a secret plot to send immigrant families like cattle on an airplane. Ship them women and children to a place they weren’t told where they were going and never alerted local officials and people on the ground here that they were coming. It is an incredibly inhumane and depraved thing to do.”

DeSantis was quick to defend his decision in a press conference on Tuesday. He stated that the flights to Martha’s Vineyard were “clearly voluntary”. DeSantis claims he gave the migrants a map of Martha’s Vineyard and a release form that they were to sign. DeSantis says, “it’s obvious they knew where they were going.” Taryn Fenske followed up DeSantis’ press conference with a statement saying, “Florida allowed them to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected.”

While many people on both sides are outraged by this mission, DeSantis has claimed he was simply trying to prove the “hypocrisy” of the Democratic party after Biden’s administration has flown and bused many immigrants to locations that have been vocal about not wanting or being able to fund them. One example of this is when the Biden administration spent months flying immigrants to an airport in New York City, even though people within the city voiced concerns about it. This event and others like it sparked outrage from not only Republican leaders but also Democratic ones as well.

The story is taking more of a spin after attorney, Julio Henriquez, met with several of the migrants. According to the Associated Press (AP), the migrants said they “had no idea of where they were going or where they were.” The migrants told Henriquez that a woman who went by “Perla” approached them outside of a shelter in San Antonio (where they had arrived when they crossed the border) and lured them onto the two planes by telling them they were going to Boston for expedited work papers. They said she would bring food and gift cards when she would visit them, and that she promised them housing for three months and jobs once they arrived in Boston.

“[Perla] offered us help. Help that never arrived,” one of the migrants, Andre Duarte, told news sources. “Now we are here. We got on the plane with a vision of the future, of making it. Look, when you have no money and someone offers help, well, it means a lot,” he said.

After hearing this new information emerge from the migrants, Texas sheriff Javier Salazar decided to open an investigation into these flights that were chartered on behalf of Gov. DeSantis to see if they were illegal. While Salazar did not name certain names or say exactly what laws may have been broken during this entire event, he did say that the migrants seemed to have been “lured under pretenses.” “They were promised work. They were promised the solution to several of their problems,” stated Salazar.

On Tuesday, a civil rights law firm filed a lawsuit against Gov. DeSantis and others involved in transporting these migrants. The law firm filed this lawsuit on behalf of the “Vineyard migrants and all similarly situated people who are fraudulently induced to travel across state lines by DeSantis and the State of Florida” the civil rights group told NPR in an email. The group also named Florida in this lawsuit.

AP also stated that while DeSantis and Florida are facing multiple lawsuits on top of an investigation, a federal investigation might be more complicated than some people might think. “It’s not clear whether anyone boarded buses or planes unwillingly, or that their civil rights were violated,” AP said. “The rights of asylum seekers arriving in the U.S. are also more limited because they are not citizens. The constitution, though, does protect them from discrimination based on race or national origin and from improper treatment by the government.”

As for the community of Martha’s Vineyard, the community has banded together to help the migrants. The migrants are currently staying at a church shelter while the community works to find resources to support the unexpected migrants. A woman named Lisa Belcastro who runs a homeless shelter on Martha’s Vineyard said, “Everything from beds to food to clothing to toothbrushes, toothpaste, blankets, sheets. I mean, we had some of it … but we did not have the numbers that we needed.” It was also apparent that local high school students stepped up as interpreters since many of the migrants did not speak English.

As the investigation is fairly new and currently ongoing, only time will tell how events play out and how leaders within each party fall on either side of the issue.

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Hey, I'm Kori! I'm a junior at Florida State University, majoring in Creative Writing and Marketing. I'm originally from Orlando, and in my spare time I love binge-watching rom-coms and reading whatever I can get my hands on!