DeSantis seeks to dismiss migrant flight lawsuit

Immigration attorney maintains that accused Florida officials violated human rights.

Sheriff Robert Ogden speaking with the migrants outside Martha's Vineyard Community Services shortly after their unexpected arrival in September of 2022. — Abigail Rosen

Florida officials responsible for the Sept. 14, 2022, flights carrying nearly 50 Venezuelan and Peruvian migrants to Martha’s Vineyard are seeking dismissal of a class action filed against them last year. 

Largely considered a “political stunt,” in which human beings were used as “political pawns,” the transportation of the group of migrants from Texas to the Vineyard by direction of Florida officials was later found to be part of Florida’s migrant “Relocation Program,” funded by federal relief money via American Rescue Plan Act and the Coronavirus State and Local Recovery Funds Program. 

On behalf of the migrants, Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston and the Chicago-based organization Alianza Americas originally filed the lawsuit in September before amending it in November. The lawsuit lists several defendants, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is widely expected to run for president — as well as the State of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation and its secretary, Jared Perdue, transport company Vertol Systems and its president, James Montgomerie, Florida public safety “czar” Lawrence Keefe, DeSantis’ chief of staff, James Uthmeier, and the woman allegedly responsible for recruiting migrants for the flights, Perla Huerta. 

The lawsuit claims that DeSantis and his associates were in violation of the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment, and called their actions of luring unsuspecting individuals onto departing planes “extreme and outrageous, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”

“The object of this scheme was not to help immigrants find a better life in Northern cities,” the complaint states, but to “use political fervor over immigration to boost [DeSantis’] national profile.”

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed earlier this week, DeSantis and his team argue that Massachusetts lacks the jurisdiction for the proceedings, since DeSantis and his co-defendants do not reside in Massachusetts. 

“The acts comprising the defendants’ alleged fraudulent conduct and discrimination occurred almost entirely outside Massachusetts,” the motion states. “The planes landed in Massachusetts, but Plaintiffs’ claims all arose before the plane touched down.”

Florida officials also claim that the 49 migrants were “voluntarily” transported to the Vineyard; although “none of the State Defendants ever spoke with migrants themselves … Only Defendant Perla Huerta, as a native Spanish speaker, talked to them … That means the only potentially fraudulent conduct was committed by Huerta.”

Huerta, a U.S. Army veteran who was referred to simply as “Perla” for weeks into the investigation of the flights, was, according to the lawsuit, hired to target migrants in Texas after Florida began experiencing “reduced pressure” from immigration. 

The lawsuit states that Huerta was then directed to “carry out a number of responsibilities,” including gathering documentation from migrants in San Antonio and coercing them to sign “sham consent-to-transport forms.” Through Huerta, the migrants slated for transportation were provided with meals and lodging prior to departure, the migrants’ suit states. 

“There is nothing illegal about voluntarily transporting migrants to other parts of the United States after they have been processed by federal authorities. States controlled by both major political parties do it,” the motion to dismiss claims. “Other states, municipalities, and private groups regularly assist migrants with their travel once they have entered the country, and the federal government has lauded those efforts.”

Rachel Self, an Island-based attorney specializing in immigration law who has been assisting the migrants in their legal case against DeSantis and the other defendants, offered a statement to The Times this week. “The efforts by the defendants to have the case dismissed are not at all unusual or unexpected,” the statement read. “Like most people who get caught violating human rights, these defendants don’t want to face the consequences of their depraved actions. These defendants can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that they violated the civil rights of 49 human beings, the youngest of whom was only 2 years old. But no matter how many procedural arguments the defendants make, they can’t change the fact that the evidence establishes that they went hunting for human beings, lured them into a trap, deceived them, and in doing so committed numerous civil rights and constitutional violations. I remain confident that our judicial system will see through these smoke-and-mirror attempts and the case will proceed toward trial, and that justice will ultimately prevail.

“In history, the line between political action and criminal behavior has sometimes disappeared. Many regimes in the past have devalued the lives of some people in order to send signals to others, to whip up and harness hatred in order to keep power. This creates the perfect conditions for massive human rights violations. Lying to people and loading them onto transport vessels and sending them to a destination they don’t know has not historically been the behavior of heroes.”


  1. OK — I want to point out part of the defendant’s argument:
    “There is nothing illegal about voluntarily transporting migrants to other parts of the United States after they have been processed by federal authorities.”
    The last part is worth noting–after being “processed by federal authorities”.
    That means they were in the United States legally. —- They were not “illegal”.
    Let’s just get that straight from the beginning…
    I appeal to the editor to enforce their published rule # 5
    “We won’t allow comments that simply are not true”
    That means any comment about these manipulated people being “illegal” should not be posted.
    Let’s play by the rules please.

    • They were on humanitarian probation and await further processing. If they were legal as one says they would have been free to go anywhere anytime on their own and without government interference. They did not. The government cocooned them of MV and into another place and they await immigration hearings.

      • andy– you are incorrect again — the plane load of political pawns arrived on M.V sept 14 th.
        They were free to go anywhere they liked within the United States while awaiting immigration hearings while here on humanitarian “parole”. Why would you consider that to not be a “legal” status? They went to Joint air base Cape Cod and received assistance.
        Every single one of them were out of that facility by Oct 8. Less than a month after they arrived here. — They legally went wherever they could.
        One thing you don’t seem to understand is that people who walk a few thousand miles to escape severe poverty and political oppression may not have the resources to book a flight to get to Chicago or wherever to stay with some distant relative or a friend of a friend or whoever they could contact. Yes, I know, they could have taken some money out of their 401K’s and took the penalty, but even you know that is not a financially wise thing to do.

  2. We also cannot change the fact that, in less than 48 hours, all of these immigrants were shipped off Martha’s Vineyard as quickly as they could. Shame on the island for not doing more to try to keep them here, but all we did was move the problem of illegal immigration to somewhere else. Martha’s Vineyard has a NIMBY problem just like every other place and when it came time for us to walk the walk we said take a hike.

    • You know that’s not true, Bob.. Technicality, you could present a case for that, but you know the actual circumstances — 49 people were living in the basement of a church with 2 bathrooms , no showers and no cooking facilities.
      We did the right thing for them–we turned out en mass to provide everything they needed from warm clothes and food to toys for the kids. We found a facility that could provide them a warm place with real beds, hot showers, cooking facilities, and private rooms for families and married couples as well as legal counsel. it might not fit your narrative and your desire to find fault with all things liberal, but they were provided for. I will point out that the people who sent them here provided nothing but a Fox news camera team to hopefully provide some anti liberal propaganda on their partisan fake “news” network . I am sure the fox news team was disappointed with how we responded– no liberal’s heckling, spitting, cursing– only a genuine outpouring of kindness and compassion. . You know it– I know it, the world knows it
      The cruel people who orchestrated this political stunt also know it.
      Hopefully, they will be held accountable.

      • Precisely. Thank you, Dana, Brooke and the Gazette. On a recent visit to Vermont, I had the pleasure of rebutting a hotel guest from Texas who was mocking the Vineyard’s response to the inhumane treatment of DeSantis’ duped passengers: “Hey. That’s ‘my’ church and ‘my’ island you’re lying about.” The sudden silence in the lobby was followed by an eruption of clapped hands.

    • Mr Murphy, please remember that these Venezuelans were promised a trip to Boston by Perla where they would have
      “Housing, and jobs “, given to them. Our island probably would not have been able to offer the variety of work that is available year round off-island, and certainly not the varied housing options that they might have to choose from. NIMBY does NOT apply in this case, but common sense does!

  3. Ron DeSantis continues to demonstrate what a supremely depraved individual he is. Whether it’s human trafficking, threatening private businesses into silence, banning books, harassing the LGBTQ community, cancelling AP curriculums on African American studies, lying about the Covid vaccine, replacing college administrators he finds “too woke”, removing duly elected officials who disagree with him, this man is a dangerous fascist. And he’s using Jesus as a Trojan Horse to usher in his campaign of hate. This man could not be further from the Christian faith I was raised in.

  4. I beg to differ. We did NOT say take a hike, we responded quickly and humanely to the needs of these totally unexpected guests! However, we do not have the type of facilities here that were readily available on the Cape. Contrary to some remarks, we did all that was needed to provide immediate help, with food and clothing and shelter and quickly arranged for better accommodations for the needs of these political victims.

  5. I have to side with Don,Dana, and Mary-Jean. One small correction Don, as a member of St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, we DO have showers and washing machines in the parish house across the street from the church hall, and kitchen facilities in both buildings. I’m sure had things not progressed as quickly and efficiently as they did on 09/14, these other amenities would have been put to good use. It’s sad to hear people speaking ill of these immigrants… I wish people could imagine what it was like for the immigrants. They were “ strangers in a strange land”, so why wouldn’t we want to help them??? Have any of you traveled overseas? My experience has been that folks in non English speaking countries try their best to be helpful and friendly to those of us who don’t speak their language well! Have a heart folks…be KIND! ( …and Don’t vote for de santis !)

  6. First let me say this: I abhore the policies of DeSantis – and yes of course it was a political stunt, a kick in Democrats teeth.
    But in this case, it was a stunt with a golden flip side: an opportunity to do immense good by rescuing a group of refugees in extreme need of medical care, food and shelter, by flying them to a place where everybody knew they would immediately be given everything they would need.

    So he hired Perla, who found this group of 49 refugees in most desperate need of medical care, food and shelter. They had gone through months of unimaginable suffering, and had just been kicked out of yet another 3-nights-max shelter – next stop would have been highway underpasses along with 10,000 other refugees.
    Perla arranged hotel rooms, meals, clothes, toys, personal articles etc, even gift certificates to MacDonalds. She too, knew perfectly well that these suffering refugees would be treated with love and care as soon as they landed.
    Upon landing, they were picked up by several pre-arranged vans, and were taken to their first destination: St. Andrews Church. With immense gratitude to all who helped – you passed the test by living up to the moral standards we set for ourselves as human beings.
    Perla had to go into deep hiding because she was being hunted with a $10,000 bounty on her head. What kind of insanity are human beings sinking into?
    Dear Rachel, please ask yourself: would you rather have been left to shelter under highways, or would you perhaps have preferred to be resued and airlifted to Martha’s Vineyard? And then please just drop this shameful lawsuit. Thank you.

    • Anna– I never heard that the refugees were ” picked up by several pre-arranged vans, and were taken to their first destination: St. Andrews Church.”
      What I know about this is that these people arrived completely unannounced and greeted only by a Fox “News” camera crew. Yes, eventually someone “arranged” for some vans to pick them up and take them to the church, but it was not something that was “pre-arranged” as you allege. We can have opinions about whether DeSantis was altruistically acting out of compassion and empathy, or whether he was using people as political pawns for his own political purposes, but we should stick to the actual facts.
      If you have some verification about your claim, I would really like to see it. And will apologize for doubting you.

  7. Jeez, everyone is so blinded by “their side” that I think we are missing what’s going on here. This was a political stunt by a stuntman and it was brilliant. The Vineyard reacted exactly as he hoped. I travel across the country a lot. People may have clapped in VT, but this fiasco has cost democrats a lot of undecided votes, and that’s what it’s all about. Pat yourselves on the back all you want about how you treated these unfortunate people for the 2 days they were there, and I do not doubt there was an abundance of caring and aid rendered. My observations have been that the vast majority of people elsewhere than our bubble, see this as 50 migrants being sent to a liberal, elitist island that reacted by sending them to a military base as fast as they could. Argue all you want about facts and semantics, but we have an election coming with no viable candidates and it will be won by undecided voters. Lawsuits will do nothing but keep this being news and I guess that means Desantis wins again.

  8. All islanders should be ashamed of our reaction to these illegal immigrants. We shipped them off as soon as possible to other communities ( ultimately beyond Joint Base Cape Cod) that have far fewer resources than what we could have provided. Islanders were quick to proudly get rid of them and then pronounce themselves virtuous. These people are now in communities that are predominately low income with few options to help them. Am I surprised? Not one bit. That’s what liberals do.

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