The Texas sheriff who launched an investigation into the transportation of nearly 50 refugees from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in September has announced that his office is recommending criminal charges.
“The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has officially filed a completed criminal case with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office regarding the incident from September 2022 where 49 migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard,” said a statement sent to The Times by the sheriff’s office this week. “The charge filed is unlawful restraint, and several accounts were filed, both misdemeanor and felony.”
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar first announced that his office would be investigating the flight at a press conference on Sept. 19, less than a week after two planes carrying 49 Venezuelan and Peruvian migrants landed unexpectedly at Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
The flights took off from San Antonio, Texas, and stopped in Florida and the Carolinas before reaching their final destination at Martha’s Vineyard.
Shortly after, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed responsibility for the flights, as part of a state-funded immigration relocation program.
It’s assumed that the recent flights transporting South American asylum seekers from El Paso to Sacramento were also part of that program, although DeSantis, who recently announced his bid for the 2024 presidential race, has yet to confirm that.
The Vineyard flights were largely considered a political stunt, prompting a handful of lawsuits against DeSantis on behalf of the group of refugees.
At that time, Sheriff Salazar had said he’d been in communication with nongovernmental organizations, immigration attorneys, and both local and national media outlets, in the investigative process. He said his office was prioritizing how to move forward, and to determine “what charges, if any, are going to apply and to whom.”
In addition to DeSantis, possible suspects — although not directly named by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office — could potentially include Florida public safety “czar” Lawrence Keefe, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief of staff James Uthmeier, the Florida Department of Transportation and its secretary Jared Perdue, transport company Vertol Systems and its president James Montgomerie, and the state of Florida, along with the woman who allegedly enticed the group of migrants to board the Vineyard-bound flights with the promise of jobs and housing.
That woman has since been identified as Perla Huerta, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a counterintelligence specialist and combat medic.
However, it is not yet known who or what entities or individuals are named in the criminal case filed by Bexar County.
“At this time, we are not naming suspects in this case,” Bexar County officials said. “However, when an update becomes available, we will provide that information to the public.”
The case is now being reviewed by the Bexar County district attorney’s office, who will determine whether to move forward with the charges.
Island resident and immigration attorney Rachel Self, who’s been involved with the migrants’ legal journey since the day of their arrival, and has worked closely with Salazar throughout the investigation, expressed her full support of the sheriff and his recent action.
“I am deeply grateful to Sheriff Salazar and his incredible team for launching and conducting such a vigorous and thorough investigation of the criminal acts that occurred in San Antonio in September,” Self told The Times in a statement this week. “He did so not out of any political sentiment, but because he felt strongly that he could not allow vulnerable human beings under his protection to be hunted and victimized. The case he has presented is extremely strong.”
“There is copious evidence, including text messages from Florida authorities, contracts with vendors, accounts from the migrants themselves, and other probable cause that this was a criminal scheme to trick people into getting on a plane with false promises, with the intention to transport them across state lines. No one can consent to being a victim of a crime.”
“These are bullies,” she continued. “Pure and simple. Someone must stand up to the bullies and be the voice for the voiceless.”