Migrant case moves forward to Texas grand jury

The news broke at Sunday night’s screening of “Martha’s Vineyard v DeSantis.”

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Founder and editor-in-chief of the Ground Truth Project Charles Sennott, left, moderated the after-screening panel discussion with filmmakers and others involved in the migrants' time on the Island. — Courtesy M.V. Film Society

In a panel discussion following a sold-out second-night screening of “Martha’s Vineyard v. DeSantis” at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, panelist and immigration attorney Rachel Self shared that the criminal investigation in connection with the 49 migrants has concluded, and that the district attorney from Bexar County, Texas, will present the case to a grand jury in the coming weeks. 

“What it means, ultimately, is if the grand jury presents indictments, if people get indicted, then criminal charges will be filed against the perpetrators of the criminal acts, and a criminal case proceeds,” said Self. This news arose after all investigative and forensic interviews of the 49 victims in the case were translated and transcribed by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, according to Self.

Self confirmed that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement on Friday, Sept. 15, the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, saying they have concluded their investigations, and are now waiting for deliberation from a grand jury to learn if a felony offense has been committed.  

“This was not a case that was a rush to judgment, this was a case in which, due to the incredible media lens, the incredible scrutiny, and the incredible mischaracterization that can happen with the media these days, that law enforcement officials wanted to be sure that every ‘i’ was dotted and ‘t’ was crossed. It is now in the hands of the prosecutor’s office and Joe Gonzalez down in Bexar County,” Self said in a public comment on the panel following the screening.

Self also shared a message from Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, who filed a criminal case with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office last September after the migrants were flown from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard: “Please let people know there’s a sheriff in Texas that fights for everybody.” The migrants crossed the border and found themselves in Bexar County, Texas, after fleeing from economic and political turmoil in Venezuela.  

The film, which had its public premiere Saturday evening at the Film Center in Vineyard Haven, included an after-screening panel with the filmmakers, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, and others involved in the migrants’ legal cases and stay on the Island. Immigration attorney and Islander Rachel Self, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, and Islander Lisa Belcastro of Harbor Homes were part of the panel, with plenty of shout-outs to other community members who provided aid. Saturday night’s screening also featured State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, as one of the members of the panel. The panel was moderated by Islander and journalist Charles Sennott, founder and editor-in-chief of the Ground Truth Project. 

Conversation ensued for about 45 minutes after the screening, where Espinoza-Madrigal and Belcastro also shared their thoughts on the situation. “Within three days of their arrival, we filed a federal class action against DeSantis and against co-conspirators,” said Espinoza-Madrigal. He commented on the unprecedented nature of the case, citing DeSantis’ efforts to get the case dismissed or transferred to his own state of Florida: “We have been fighting tooth and nail to make sure that our clients, the Martha’s Vineyard migrants, can have their day in court.”

“I fully expect the federal court in Boston to have a hearing within a matter of weeks,” said Espinoza-Madrigal.

Both the immigration process and the criminal processes have been long and drawn-out — which is not atypical. Self and Espinoza-Madrigal highlighted the barriers to entry and to legal work, even for migrants fleeing countries for their own safety.

Self explained that unauthorized work is the only option for many migrants that find themselves in a similar situation to that of the Martha’s Vineyard migrants, and that unauthorized work is ultimately forgiven from a legal standpoint when the time comes. 

Of the four migrants who have been able to remain on the Island, Self said they are working the odd jobs they can find in construction, landscaping, and roofing, for example. “They’re doing the things that we typically associate with the newcomers who come to this country,” said Self. 

She urged the public to recall that immigrants made up a large part of the essential work force at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing services like grocery shopping and delivery, and filling critical staffing roles at hospitals and other places in an economy that desperately needs workers in every sector. Espinoza-Madrigal agreed, commenting on the critical role immigrants play in the U.S. economy, workforce, and communities. “This idea of thinking immigration is disconnected from the economy, disconnected from the way that our workplaces operate and communities function — we need to demystify that.” 

“One of the things to never forget about this particular class of people [is that] none of them want a handout,” said Self. “None of them are asking for services, benefits, or social programs; they just want to be able to lawfully provide for themselves, and they want to be providing for the people they left behind in their country.” 

An audience member asked about the possibility of sponsoring family members of the migrants still living in Venezuela. 

In order for migrants to sponsor family members and bring them to the U.S., the sponsor must be able to demonstrate a certain level of income and ensure that the person they’re bringing here will not become a public charge, as in they will remain the financial responsibility of the sponsor. According to Self, there are 30,000 visas available each month to bring sponsored family members of migrants to the U.S. Self encouraged anyone interested in becoming a sponsor to contact her. 

Belcastro made an emotional testament to the efforts of the Island community, and to the plight of the migrants: “We are all immigrants. Unless you were born into the Wampanoag tribe on this Island, we are all immigrants.” 

“We’ll never know what it’s like to have to flee a country, as our Venezuelan friends did,” said Belcastro. “They didn’t ask to come to Martha’s Vineyard. Most people, they ask to come here, they want to come here. But they arrived here dazed and confused, hurt and betrayed. Everyone wanted to help, and love won,” Belcastro said. “This Island community pulled together. It was the community it is every single day, only on steroids. If you wanted to see love, you needed to be on the corner of Summer and Winter [streets] last year in September.” 

Kate Davis and David Heilbroner are Oscar-nominated filmmakers and longtime Vineyard residents. They have collaborated on numerous social justice films and have won two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, and the NAACP Image Award, among others. “Martha’s Vineyard v. DeSantis” is a 45-minute documentary film executive-produced by Trevor Noah, produced for and sponsored by MSNBC Films. It is set to premiere on MSNBC and Peacock in October. The weekend’s screening was co-presented by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society and Circuit Arts. 

“If there’s any lesson people could take home from this film, it’s to fight back. We are at a tipping point in our democracy,” said Heilbroner. “It started out as a small story, but Kate and I quickly realized it contains issues of national moment.” 

Davis added that as with any documentary project, they couldn’t know how it would play out in the end. She felt the film accomplished her one true goal in filmmaking: “To open people’s hearts to people they’d otherwise never know. To humanize those in the news who are often just categorized as ‘the other,’” said Davis. She commended the four migrants who participated and were featured in the film. “That took bravery on their parts,” Davis said. “They didn’t ask for this.”

55 COMMENTS

  1. Did anyone ask why they came all this way to the USA? We want legal immigration not what is going on now. I am a product of legal immigration and resent being compared to these people who break the law and then want a hand out. This is another example of the waste of tax payer money clogging up the courts over illegal immigration. These immigrants not only asked for this they traveled 1,000 of miles to get to this country. At least one person asked about sponsoring someone in the correct way and that is a start.

    • I think a little research would make you better informed. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll learn that these folks have have explained why they set out on their long and dangerous journey. You’ll also learn that they were all properly documented by U.S. authorities, and were awaiting court hearings on their asylum applications — all above board and legit. Thats how the system works, and they were playing by the rules and abiding the law before they were kidnapped and flown to Massachusetts under false pretext.

      • Yes Mr Davis, a little research shows that the illegals who were documented by awaiting clearance volunteered to get on the airplane to a better place and when they arrived they were thankful they were on MV and not back in Texas or Florida. Research also shows that it is perfectly legal for a Governor to ship immigrants to Sanctuary cities and Florida was not one of them. They were not kidnapped, some did not go, and they had every right to stay were they were. 7.1 million Venezuelans have left their country in the last few years due to a corrupt leadership. Would you take them all here?

        • So, Mr. Engleman, there was nothing “illegal” about the status of 49 Venezuelan migrants who were transported to MV, so let’s get that out of the way. They all presented themselves at the US border as asylum applicants, and they all had scheduled court dates to hear their cases. Secondly, there was nothing “perfectly legal” about transporting those asylum seekers anywhere (much less from Texas to Florida to Massachusetts) on the basis of a fraudulent proposal, and using taxpayer dollars to fund the scheme.

    • Bob, they were here, did you bother to ask them about their journey to the land of of the free?
      Share backgrounds, the difficulties in dealing with the the immigration process, get to know them on as one to one basis, their hopes and dreams, their humannity?
      You got in so now you want the door nailed shu
      You Lucky Dog

  2. A huge congratulations to Kate Davis and David Heilbroner on this extraordinarily well done documentary. The film exposed the atrocities and larger issues related to the illegal transport of the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last year. Attaching names and faces to the four very brave souls who were featured in the documentary provided insight into their personal struggles and their journeys against overwhelming odds to seek a better life in the U.S..

    The film also revealed the true nature of the remarkable actions of the many key players who deserve recognition: Attorney Espinoza-Madrigal for orchestrating the civil class action case with lightning speed; Lisa Belcastro and Geanny Rolanti for their compassionate response on the ground; Representative Dylan Fernandes for supporting our community and for educating Governor DeSantis that the “greener pasture” to which he referred is in fact an economically diverse community of locals with a significant immigrant population; and last, but certainly not least, Attorney Rachel Self. Rachel is an outstanding lawyer who is known in the legal community for her unique ability to blend exceptional and zealous advocacy with empathy and human kindness. The film brought to light Attorney Self’s tireless efforts to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions and to ensure that each and every one of the 49 migrants received fair representation.

    The folks who arrived here by surprise on their flight to the Vineyard that day didn’t realize that they would find not only an embracing community, but a true legal champion in Rachel Self. Governor DeSantis didn’t realize he had come toe to toe with a fearsome legal Giant.

    Bravo to you all!

  3. Clearly there is enough evidence to investigate
    the misappropriation of federal funds and
    coercing unsuspecting people into agreeing
    to participate in a high profile political stunt under false
    pretenses. I think even the most Kool aid drunk partisan
    racist would have to agree that these charges are worth
    an investigation.
    I am very happy that it worked out well for many of these
    people. But that does excuse alleged criminal activity.
    Surely, the people here who are all for being tough on crime
    will agree.
    And of course, i expect the usual residents of the peanut
    gallery to talk about Hunter Biden.
    But before you ask– yes, i think Hunter’s dealings should be
    investigated.
    The next time i get pulled over for speeding, i will ask the
    police officer why he is not investigating that report
    that Hunter Biden was driving at 170 MPH in Nevada more
    than 5 years ago. That should convince the officer to just let
    let me go, no matter how reckless I was driving. Right ?

    • Hi Don, glad to see you are among the democrats who concede the contents and photos in Hunter Biden’s laptop are true. And not Russian disinformation.

      • John– years ago Hunter Biden was hooked
        on some serious drugs and did lots of stupid
        things. If he broke the law, there should be
        consequences.
        Just like if we find that Desantimonious
        broke the law. There seems to be something
        worth investigating about both men.
        I’m encouraged by andy’s prediction about
        this case, given his track record of accurately
        predicting things.
        And I love that the republicans actually want to
        prosecute someone for possessing a gun that he
        legally acquired.
        I wonder if you can concede there was disinformation
        from Russian operatives during the 2016 and 2020
        elections. I believe there was no collusion between
        the trump campaign and Russia — I believe that
        because that claim was thoroughly investigated
        and that was the conclusion of the investigators.
        But that same investigation concluded there was
        a serious effort by the Russians to interfere in those
        elections. How about you ?
        Do you think they were right about what you wanted
        them to be right about , but not about what
        you wanted them to be wrong about ?

      • What are the contents and photos on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
        Who has had access to it?
        Have any of the contents been changed since the day it was dropped off for service?

  4. I must be a Kool-aid drinking partisan racist Keller because these charges are laughable and wont stand up for a minute. As someone once said ”you can indict a ham sandwich” Lots of you folks are virtue signaling yourself as a sanctuary city and now Healy has a problem on her hands. If you build it they will come.

  5. Biden buses hundreds of thousands of these illegal immigrants to crappy cities all over the country and DeSantis is a criminal for flying a few of them to beautiful Martha’s Vineyard? It’s so bad that our Governor has declared a State of Emergency. Where are the calls for Biden to go to jail for doing the same thing as DeSantis. Even the scrambled brain of a left wing loony should understand that Biden needs to be held accountable for this crisis.

    • John Axel asks:
      “Where are the calls for Biden to go to jail for doing the same thing?”
      Because it’s not even remotely the same thing.
      HTH.

    • DeSantis flew these people, on a private jet, at taxpayer’s expense, as a political statement, that backfired, just look at all the happy faces.
      He should have have sent them to crappy Red cities where they would be treated like dirt!

  6. Build The Wall

    Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

    Was Reagan a Democrat or a Republican?

    Is Trump a Democrat or a Republican.

    Hint: They both were both, as suited their politics of the moment.

    Which was the better President?

    • They were both awesome Presidents! I’m not sure your point. They were both incredibly successful. How could you deny that?

      • One tore down a wall.
        The other put up a small amount of wall that is falling down, that Mexico did not pay for, as promised.

        Successful Presidents win reelection. Successful Presidents win the most general election votes. Trump has never done that.
        Successful Presidents win more than 450 Electoral College votes.
        If you you consider Reagan to be a success then Trump is a relative failure.
        How could you deny that?

  7. How many of you Martha’s Vineyard liberals have taken any illegal aliens into your home to house them? How many? Go.

    • You’re off the point, as the 49 Venezuelan migrants at issue here were not “illegal aliens” (which is how you phrased your question).

      • Great points, George. Glad you’re in this debate. And now, to the man you’re answer, Reggie, I surrender. I had a good friend, an Argentinian “illegal immigrant” housed in my dwelling for two years, before he went back to Argentina, to wait out the 10 years to get in line for a legal visa. Sadly, I was told recently he died 9+ years after his wait began. He helped build the house that President Obama now owns! And learned all about the Red Sox and the Patriots of whom he became a great champion. So no harm, no foul, I guess, exept I do miss you, Jose.

        • Argentinian “illegal immigrant” helped build the house that President Obama now owns! ….Why am I not surprised!!

  8. John, I agree. Biden continued and expanded this migrant crisis. All sanctuary city residents whether Black, Brown, Asian, White are suffering the ill effects from the huge number of migrants. Many of these aliens are unvetted, illegal, criminals and foreign terrorists. Increased crime, including murder, assault, rape, carjacking, shoplifting, home invasion, overcrowded living, disease and more. Biden and the Democrat policies are egotistical, haphazard, illogical and CORRUPT. Consider his ill planned and thoughtless Afghanistan withdrawal that resulted in 13 dead service men/woman, over 80 billion dollars of abandoned military equipment/arms left to support our sworn enemy. I could continue with many more examples. Impeach Biden.

    • What should Biden have done? Lock kids in gages?
      Send his wife to the border with a green leather jacket with “I really don’t care” written crudely?

    • How many US servicemen died when Nixon pulled our Troops out of Vietnam?
      Why did Eisenhower put US flip flops (“advisers”) on the ground in Vietnam?
      The 80 billion dollars of abandoned military equipment is what the taxpayer paid for it.
      How many dollars would it have cost to return it to US soil? Lives?
      It’s Net Present Value stateside?
      Biden got us out of a war. Just like Nixon.

      • The cost to return the military equipment would have been minimal. Abandonment of the equipment in effect funded these terrorists for the full 80 billion.

        • What would the cost, in lives, be to return our military equipment.
          Some of that equipment has been in the desert for two decades.
          Discounting the cost in dollars, and lives, to get the military equipment stateside, would it have a billion dollars in in value to our military?
          How many billions of dollars of military equipment did Nixon leave in Vietnam?
          How many of our troops died getting out.
          Like America not all Afghanis are terrorists.

          My memory is starting to fail, why did we invade Afghanistan? Something about what a Saudi did in New York?
          Was invading Vietnam to free them from foreign domination?

      • Nixon got us OUT of Vietnam through Vietnamization. It was JFK and the Democrats who got us into the Vietnam war. Obviously you don’t know your history.

    • Finally, common sense puts in an appearance.

      “and were awaiting court hearings on their asylum applications”

      Oh, that makes it all OK. the Venezuelan migrant who recently murdered a man in Houston has a court date in 2025. So, it’s all good.

      The laws under which asylum is offered to those who are politically persecuted in their home countries are being shamelessly and cynically abused by those who seek economic opportunity or who are criminals being dumped from their home countries. Traffickers who facilitate this movement of hundreds of thousands are themselves ruthless. For some reason the Biden administration is encouraging this invasion. And an invasion is what it is. Have readers seen recent videos of trainloads of people, mostly young men of military age, being shipped to the US border in box cars?

      Who is paying for these trips? As RFK Jr. clarified after his trip to the border area to see for himself what was going on, this traffic in humans is under the control of Mexican cartels, for whom it is a profit center. It is a humanitarian disaster replete with abuses that adult readers should be able to figure out for themselves.

      Estimates of the number of illegals now in the USA range from 50 million to 70 million. Cities that idealistically designated themselves “sanctuary cities” in defiance of ICE have encouraged this flow, and now they are now being overwhelmed in every way. The group who ended up on Martha’s Vineyard were extremely fortunate. It is incomprehensible to me why they are suing anyone.

  9. Katherine, you make several valid arguments to stop this invasion.
    “For some reason the Biden administration is encouraging this invasion”. Here are my opinions. 1. The Biden and Obama administrations are both corrupt and under the INFLUENCE of governments, global political organizations and wealthy individuals to weaken the US. 2. Biden and Obama are encouraging chaos to conceal their true actions. 3. Biden brain is so befuddled by age that he makes illogical decisions and or his advisors are managing him with the resulting conflicting policies.

    • Biden was not too brain befuddled to “cheat” Trump out of a Second Term.
      Too lead the Deep State in taking over the world.

      For those not as well informed as you, what are Obama’s true actions?

    • Roy, the announcement today that hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans will be offered “temporary work permits” has my antennae twitching, and others’ as well.

      Apparently the fact that the Uniparty doesn’t like the Maduro govt means that anyone who leaves Venezuela is considered worthy of political asylum. That is my take. I read that there are recruiters down there. This certainly looks like the creation of a particular bloc of “migrants” singled out for special treatment and status. Almost, you might say, created. For what purpose?

      The same folks who are “running” the Ukraine adventure, which is a total failure, are running the migrant situation. So, think. Connect a few dots.

    • Given the power, what would you do about it?
      More razor wire? More dogs? More cages for kids.
      Take no prisoners, shoot to kill?
      What are your solutions.

      • “Given the power, what would you do about it?”

        I can’t believe you actually wrote that.
        Close the border, silly.
        Defend our borders.
        Enforce our laws.
        The fecklessness evident in these threads is terrifying.

      • Close the border for 3 months. Anarchy is not the answer. Finish the wall and bring in the military. We are spending BILLIONS to enforce Ukraine’s borders; it’s time to focus on ours too! Biden and Mayorkis must go!

  10. If you say so Mr Davis it must be so. They have not met their court dates by the way and likely will not particularly if they are in 2025 or later. This repeated notion that they were coerced into coming to MV or boarding an airplane is pure conjecture.

    • Let me guess, they come from a warm climate, winter is coming, why would they be willing to go to the where it is cold and few people speak their native tongue, half of Texas can get by in Spanish. Perhaps they were lied to, or even coerced? That will all come out in the court hearings

  11. Their court dates were imminent, not in 2025. And, conjecture aside, how would you know whether they intended to appear or not? We do know that they presented themselves to U.S. authorities upon arrival, and that they properly submitted their asylum paperwork. Secondly, what is “conjectural” about the statement that they boarded an airplane on the basis of fraudulent representations, and at exorbitant taxpayer expense? (I didn’t say that they were “coerced,” nor have I heard anyone make that allegation. That was your terminology.)

  12. A new study out this week from Syracuse University states that nearly 3.8 million illegals have come into the US since President Biden took office. Headline stories out of NYC are shocking the nation, even Democrats who the support controversial Sanctuary Cities policies. Data now shows that 94,892 illegals have arrived in NYC this year alone. This is unsustainable and creating problems we can only guess at now.

    It’s happening in many cities across the nation. When will our president stand up and do his job? Voters will have a say next year!

  13. Not all 5 million migrants can remain in the El Paso area. Many migrants were shipped to NYC, LA and Chicago – Sanctuary Cities. Now that there are millions more, they are shipped to many other cities, such as Boston. What about MV? We received a few migrants but local officials freaked out, sent them away and blamed DeSantis. But every town receives migrants now, MV is not an exception. With many Islanders in support of mass migration, it’s obvious; there’s a plethora of uninhabited houses and hotels here. MV accommodates 10’s of thousands of visitors from June – August. During the other months, MV can accommodate 10’s of thousands of migrants, potentially. Let’s see rhetoric turn into action. Who wants to sponsor migrants? Call Governor Healey’s Constituent Services Main Office at (617) 725-4005, she’s asking for volunteers. The Governor already sent migrants to some hotels on the Cape. Under the Governor’s Emergency, she has the power to send migrants to MV and fill up empty housing. Blame DeSantis if it makes you feel better but, it’s not he who supports open borders and mass migration. Now that DeSantis got your attention…what are you going to do? Volunteer to house migrants or send them away?

  14. How many illegals came in under Biden?
    Trump?
    Obama?
    Bush2?
    Clinton?
    Bush1?
    Raegan?
    How many slaves did our Founding Fathers let in?
    Were they illegals?

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