Bexar County sheriff certifies that migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard are crime victims, clearing path for special visas

Venezuelan migrants stand outside St. Andrews Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on the island of Marthas Vineyard, on Sept. 14, 2022. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette/Handout Via Reuters, Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette/Handout Via Reuters)

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Thursday certified that 49 migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month were victims of a crime. The move clears a pathway for those migrants to get a special visa to stay in the country that they otherwise would not have received.

Recommended Videos

Rachel Self, a Massachusetts attorney working with the migrants, told radio station WGBH that the move by Salazar is a key part of the migrants’ applications for a “U visa,” which is reserved for victims of crime or people who witnessed a crime. In a statement, Salazar said his office had submitted documents with the federal system “to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation.”

Attorneys like Self are seeking the visas for the migrants on the grounds that they were taken to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses.

“Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” Salazar said in a statement.

Salazar said his office has identified witnesses in the case but could not release their names because the investigation is ongoing.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Salazar’s statement hinted that no action would be taken against the Republican governor, saying that “only those who were physically in our jurisdiction at the time of the offense are considered suspects.”

Migrants said they were convinced to board the airplanes by a woman known only as “Perla” who offered them jobs, housing and education if they went to Massachusetts.

The ACLU of Massachusetts has been working with nine people who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard and are now seeking U-Visas.

“We are grateful for Sheriff Salazar’s recognition of the gravity of these events. These certifications are an acknowledgment of the wrongs done to our clients and a crucial step in helping them to chart their path forward,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Immigrants are human beings, not political props. We are proud that Massachusetts received these immigrants with compassion, and look forward to continuing to work with our clients as they begin their lives in our community.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also sent migrants to Democrat-run cities like Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago as he spars with federal officials about the large number of migrants coming across the southern border.

But in a Sunday interview with Spanish-language Univision news, he emphasized that Texas’ program is different because migrants agree to board buses to those cities. Abbott and DeSantis are both potential Republican presidential candidates in 2024, and the Florida flights were seen as an attempt by DeSantis to one-up Abbott’s busing strategy, which had been in place since April but had ramped up in August.

“The way that we do it is we receive written authorization from everybody who gets on that bus that they fully authorize the state to transport them to whatever location it is that they’re going to,” Abbott said. “And so, this is done willfully, knowingly. And they are provided food and beverages and other things on the trip. And so, it’s just done completely differently.”

Recommended Videos