Asylum seekers celebrate new special protections

The legal battles are still underway nearly two years after the incident. 

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

Updated April 24

Almost two years ago, nearly 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers landed on Martha’s Vineyard via private planes chartered by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Now, some of them are one step closer to remaining in the United States. 

Immigration attorney and Islander Rachel Self, who is a part of a legal effort to bring charges against DeSantis, announced in a Monday morning press release that the asylum seekers have started receiving bonafide determinations from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for their U nonimmigrant visas. 

Self says she’s optimistic all 49 will be given the special protection.  

“The fact they are coming for some is indicative that they will come in for all because they were all victims of the same crime,” Self told the Times. 

Reached by The Times on Wednesday, April 24, the asylum seekers say that the latest development is great news.

Eliud, who was featured in the MSNBC documentary “Martha’s Vineyard v. DeSantis” and who moved back to the Vineyard, said being able to receive a visa in the future was exciting. 

“We are all proud to be in this country and that in the future we can receive that benefit,” he said.

Eliud continued that he met a “good person” that connected him with a job, although he’s having difficulty finding a home to rent with his cousins. Still, he said he has been doing “very good” since the plane incident. 

“I am truly grateful for the people and lawyers who have helped,” he said. 

The Times also spoke with another asylum seeker, Daniel by text message using an online translator. He said receiving legal status in the U.S. was the “best thing” because of “everything we went through.” 

According to USCIS, U visas are meant for “victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.”

Self told the Times all of the migrants cooperated with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office of Texas. According to the release, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar had certified that the individuals were “victims of qualifying criminal activity” and filed U visa petitions for them. 

The asylum seekers were flown to the Vineyard by DeSantis in 2022, who allegedly paid $615,000 for the political stunt. The asylum seekers were allegedly enticed to ride the planes with false promises of jobs and housing. 

A representative of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office was not immediately available for comment. 

The release points out that the backlogged U visa process can take years to complete. The number of individuals who can receive U visas from immigration services is capped at 10,000 principal petitioners annually. However, the bona fide status would allow those awaiting their visa determinations to obtain work authorization; it also protects them until the visas are received.

Monday’s news follows progres for the asylum seekers in court. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs ruled that the plaintiffs in the case could proceed with a lawsuit against Vertol Systems, a Florida-based charter company that was contracted by the State of Florida to transport the asylum seekers to the Island.

However, in a parallel tract, there’s been little progress in a case brought by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. Over eight months ago, the Sheriff’s Office had recommended Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez prosecute those involved in orchestrating the flights, but no action has been taken. The sheriff’s investigation spanned multiple states, they interviewed over 50 witnesses, and collected “copious evidence,” including text messages from Florida authorities, contracts with vendors, forensic interviews, and accounts from the asylum seekers.

“The Governor of Florida orchestrated the abduction of 49 human beings,” the release reads. “The actions of all those involved in this scheme were criminal. The role of the DA is to prosecute criminal offenses, protect the innocent, and convict the guilty. The Bexar County DA’s inaction in this matter is concerning and cannot be understated.”

A representative of the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office was not immediately available for comment. 

Self had initially announced last September during a showing of the documentary “Martha’s Vineyard v. DeSantis” at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center that the sheriff’s investigation had concluded. At the time, the case was expected to go before a Texas grand jury.

Self told the Times it was uncertain why the case had not moved forward and the district attorney’s office had been silent. “Where is the accountability for those who perpetrated this crime?” she said, adding that it was fortunate the U.S. government recognizes that the “bad guys” won’t always be caught and there are ways for victims to receive benefits.

Updated with comments from Eliud, Daniel, and Rachel Self.


  1. This is really good news. We have a group of
    people who are helping to prosecute criminals.
    And they are being recognized for their efforts.
    What more could we ask for ?
    They should be sworn is as citizens today !

  2. If someone could figure out how the legal system actually works, it would be amazing. Sounds like someone’s feeling frustrated and all you have to do is watch the news and see how this case is not unique. I hope you’re as equally frustrated that Hunter Biden has not paid any price for all of his Illegal activity. Or New Jersey Senator Menendez with his gold bars that still is in Congress. The list is long and wide with either illegal or immoral behavior by politicians from both sides of the aisle.

  3. This is another scam. No crime was committed other than crossing the border illegally. Having said that Ms. Self is using every tool in her tool belt representing her clients and although I disagree with the premiss of her argument she should be commended for making it.

    • Carl, it’s interesting to me that you say no crime was committed except for crossing the border illegally. Pretty sure they are going through a legal process. I would not enjoy someone (a governor no less) lie to me about my destination when boarding a plane. I’m a human being and I want to be treated with respect. Even by a governor.

      • Mary, you really need to turn on a tv and watch for yourself people climbing over, through and around our barricades them simply disappear into the country. And let’s not forget all those who have not shown up for their court hearing and have disregarded them. They are here illegally. I don’t get what you don’t understand about that. They broke the law.

        • Carl, all of the immigrants I have ever
          met (and you and I do not know which
          ones are documented versus
          undocumented) work like dogs.
          In the heat, in the cold, in dirty jobs,
          in dangerous jobs, long hours, and
          no appreciation. One of my friends
          (who had 2 masters degrees and a professional job before coming) came
          to US with a visa and was actually
          spit upon because she hadn’t learned
          English yet. That sort of xenophobia is
          astonishing to me! Why are people so
          cruel? Are we really so afraid of other
          people, or so afraid that there won’t
          be enough (food, money, housing,
          windmills), that we will disparage
          other people? We have enough to go
          around! There IS enough for all of us!
          Melly even planted enough Daffodils 🌼
          for all of us.

          • Mary, I commend hard work but you make my point that we don’t know who are documented and those who aren’t. We have no idea the intentions of those who simply walked over the border. But those that who are here legally and not are breaking the law, I find it abhorrent that they treated in such a manner as your friend. And those here illegally should also be treated with dignity while being deported. You keep saying we have enough for all of us but in fact we don’t.
            California is running out of water. Environmentalist are telling us climate change is making the planet uninhabitable so why are we taking more people in to consume our limited resources? Please show me the science where we have enough for everyone.
            Another point you are making for me that you need to be exposed to the real world and not virtue signaling world of MV.
            NYC and all other major cities have run out of room and resources for migrants and then they end up fighting in the streets
            Turn on Fox News and read the Wall Street Journal. It’s always good to see what is really going on in the world. Remember if it weren’t for Ron DeSantis sending those migrants to MV the “main stream media” never would have covered the border issue. If liberals payed attention to what Fox News was showing three years ago on a daily basis maybe the number one issue in this upcoming election wouldn’t be border security. If Biden loses this election and that’s a big if he will have the border issue to blame. The only issue I see Biden winning on is abortion. And he could ride that single issue to another term and if he wins God help us.

          • You’re distrustful of short term rental people, as you say in another comment elsewhere. How do you know who these people are and if they’re safe, you wonder? How do you decide who is okay and deserving of trust? Migrants=good; short-term renters=not near my kids? You also say there’s enough for everyone, but only when migrants are involved. This kind of liberal biased inconsistency cracks me up.

        • Carl– every single immigrant that was hoodwinked
          into boarding those planes to be a pawn in a presidential
          campaign were here LEGALLY– . Let me repeat– LEGALLY.
          Yes there are people who enter illegally and/or don’t show
          up for their hearings for reasons you or I don’t know.
          They are not the plaintiffs in this lawsuit any more than
          the desperate people trying to cross the Mediterranean
          to get into Europe.
          But- if a single person on either of those planes were in this
          country illegally, Gov DeSanctimonious should have been
          thrown in jail immediately for human trafficking., just like any other common coyote .
          And by the way, every person on those “secret flights
          under cover of darkness” that the Biden administration
          is doing legally with funding from congress for the purpose
          of relieving pressure on “border” states and reuniting families
          is here LEGALLY. Just in case you were wondering.

        • Carl, thanks for being as fair as you can when engaging in our discussions. (Thank you also for your apology back in March, I did see it and want to show appreciation and recognition for that).
          I do see the same border crossing tv as you. I do have a different viewpoint perhaps. Can I imagine myself leaving my home behind? Leaving behind relatives, all belongings except a few in a backpack, recognizing that the journey is so difficult that I might die or my children might die? This scenario is so incredibly frightening that I would not undertake it lightly. We must, must do a better job of protecting democracy around the world so that moving to the US isn’t a measure of desperation! Can we please support Ukraine? 🇺🇦
          A couple of book recommendations: American Dirt, Fascism A Warning, and Under the Light of the Italian Moon.
          Putin has become a modern dictator. He isn’t the only one. Trump was NOT joking when he said he wants to be dictator for a day and that Putin is a good guy. I see our current election as an existential choice where a dictator may become our president and we lose essential freedoms and democracy.

  4. The only crime committed was the illegal crossing of our border. How can anyone rationalize open borders?

    • Mike– can you document that any of the people in this case
      crossed the border illegally ? May I remind you that under us
      immigration law, it is legal to cross the border, find border
      patrol agents and request asylum. Too bad– some things are
      legal even if you don’t like it.

      • Don, I was sure that if I looked up lying to a federal agent to gain admittance to this country it would surely be a crime. At the very least fraud being that migrants freely say that are coming here to make money which is not a reason for granting asylum. But it’s not a crime. I find that to be incredible but they are playing by the rules it appears.
        So I guess lying to a federal agent is only punishable if you are a US citizen. The ship is sinking.

        • Carl– Yeah, I agree. It’s tough to be a republican these
          days, you can’t even lie to the FBI or congress without a bunch
          of “Hillary Clinton lovers” thring you in jail and
          terrorizing you. Hmmmm– now what was it that
          Bill Clinton got impeached over ? Hmmm it wasn’t
          because of a sexual encounter he had in the oval
          office– it’s fine for presidents or wanna be presidents
          to do that… maybe you could look it up.
          Some people here wouldn’t believe me if I said what the
          actual high crime or misdemeanor was…
          But you might like this clip about how horrible
          life is for republicans.

      • No I cannot. Neither can the authorities. Thats the problem, we have no documentation of who these people really are.

  5. The outlook is brighter for these asylum seekers, some of whom are fast-tracked to getting their papers. Not so much for the island’s homeless sleeping in the state forest, especially now that the shelter is closed. It was cold last night.

    Like it or not, De Santis’s stunt turned out to be a mostly-positive for some of the asylum seekers.

    Immigrants seeking papers are shipped like human cargo to NYC, too. When I have to step around a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the CVS, I cannot tell if they are an asylum seeker or a US citizen. What’s the difference, and why does one get the attention of the liberal left hypocrites, but the other isn’t even brought into the discussion here about who has enough of nothing to go around?

    Apparently, there isn’t enough to go around of lots of stuff, but pick and choose, issue-de-jour liberals seem to think they get to close their eyes to anything that doesn’t fit a phony “I care about the oppressed” narrative. What am I missing about “enough to go around” nonsense? A fat belly thinks there is enough to go around when there is not. “Let them eat cake” comes to mind. But I understand the conundrum: how is a liberal supposed to climb off a “moral” high horse when a story mentions Florida or Texas or DeSantis?

    Trump=Icky. Biden=Icky. Least worst is not acceptable to those with a conscience.

    I notice every single time I see a liberal bring up women’s issues, respect for women, sexual harassment, etc. as oh-my-goodness-it’s-horrible, but has stayed dead silent on the rape, torture, and mutilation of certain women belonging to a certain group who apparently aren’t worth even a MeToo mention in over 6 months. Forget the “Free Palestine” dolts protesting at colleges who don’t recognize the “dishonored” Palestinian women and what happens to them. One such morally superior person once asked me, of all people, if I didn’t care about sexually harassed women when I said woiuld not vote for Biden, an incompetent who’s had his own issues with creepy kissing girls.

    How do liberals not know they are hypocrites on every topic they go on and on about? I’d really like to know.

    • Jackie– It seems there is only one topic to go on and on about.
      Yeah, those liberals will go so far as to say things like
      “I stand with Israel”
      “Hamas is a radical terrorist organization”
      “The oct 6 attack was a horrible act of terrorism
      motivated by ethnic hatred”
      “Hamas uses innocent children as human shields”
      Hamas uses hospitals as a place to hide”
      “Israel has a right to exist”
      “Israel has a right to defend itself”
      Some will even go so far as to donate to
      the ADL All in a transparent scheme to cover up their blatant
      Yup – those lying liberal “Hillary lovers” are truly
      “vile” …
      I wonder if while you “have to step around a homeless
      person sleeping on the sidewalk” you wonder if they
      are a veteran ? Does that ever cross your mind ?

      • “Just between you and me, I am about ready to burn my ADL card and quit donating to them. Claiming these repeated atrocities and verifiable war crimes are just liberal lies is getting a little old with people like me who are watching this unfold.– The GOVERNMENT of israel and the IDF forces of Israel are not living up to the ideals and values of the Jewish people.”
        ~Don Keller, from a small section of his last unwanted email to me

        This is the kind of private antisemitic lying, gaslighting, and harassment I put up with when Keller thinks no one is watching– He did try to carefully word this last time, but he slipped up anyway. The pretense of understanding the ideals and core values of any people, let alone the Jewish people, is laughable.

        Keller, what’s done is done. You cannot undo who you’ve told us you are. We believe you. And you seem obsessed with everything I say.

  6. Seeking asylum constitues a legal crossing and allows the applicant to remain legally while that application is pending. Sadly, the Republican-dominated House rejected a bipartisan bill that would have strengthened border protection and increased staffing to eliminate huge backlogs in asylum applications.
    Speaking personally, my family arrived without papers, but desperately seeking safety from a dangerously oppressive government. They didn’t speak the language and were woefully unequipped to deal with unfamiliar food and customs. Thanks to the kindness of their neighbors, they survived the first hard years and we have thrived in the years since 1620 — although their neighbors have had occasion to regret their kindness many times over.
    My experience with immigrants is the vast majority just want a safe place to live and work with the hope of a better life for their children. The challenge is to weed out the few scoundrels and criminals while welcoming the others and wishing them well.

    • Alison, I actually spent a lot of time reading that bill and it didn’t do much to stop the flow of immigrants. The money was going to used to process the migrants faster. The the 5k per day cap is over 1.8mm per year. Just a few years ago we were at 330k per year.
      1.8mm is unsustainable and the system is rigged to help elect democrats and add congressional seats to Congress.
      Wanting a better life for your children does not meet the criteria to claim asylum. I think most would agree that the USA is the best country in the world and that’s why so many people want to come here. We certainly don’t see people fighting to get out. But our history is that our for fathers fought and died for our freedom. They stood up to an oppressive government and won. Why can’t the people leaving their country do the same? Freedom isn’t free. And now we see the Ukrainian people fighting for their freedom and that is ok but the people of Israel can’t. They must submit to Hamas. The US no longer has the money, the guts or the willingness to be the world’s policeman. We are soft and too easily offended by meaningless pronouns. If Biden gets re-elected the migrants will self deport realizing that they are better off where they came from.

  7. Our next president will be the best by providing security to all Americans.
    A. Build the wall across the entire border with Mexico.
    B. Mass deportation to Mexico of the ten million illegal aliens that entered the U.S. over the last three years. Let Mexico disperse them to their home countries.
    C. Charge a 20% tax on billion in remittances that annually flow into Mexico from the U.S. Remittances are the largest source of foreign exchange by Mexican national residents, sending hundreds of billions back home to Mexico.
    D. Declare the cartels international terrorist organizations.
    E. Sanction all Mexican banks, corporations, and every Mexican official that traffic and do business with the cartels.
    F. Deploy the U.S. military to the border to enforce and aid the border patrol to end all cartel and illegal aliens entry into the United States and to stop drug and human trafficking.

    • Roy– wow– just tear up the last little bit of
      humanity and laws that this country may have.
      WOW– You forgot to mention the “space lasers” that MJT
      submitted in that recent defense bill.
      And I wonder how you would think those
      lasers would be deployed to keep out
      southern border secure? We see how powerful
      they are — they can set huge sections of
      California forests on fire in a matter of minutes.
      I would guess they could toast thousands of
      asylum seekers in a few seconds.
      Why spend all that money building a wall
      when you can just have it running back and forth
      at the border ?

  8. Roy, building a physical wall won’t stop people who are desperate. Venezuelan migrants at the border increased by 700% Dec 2023 as compared to Dec 2022. Perhaps we should ask one of the people (they aren’t “animals” like Trump thinks they are) why they left everything they held dear to come to a new country.
    Could it be the inflation rate there? Prices nearly doubled in Venezuela just last year!! (Zimbabwean prices tripled, Sudanese prices were up 150%, and in Turkey prices were up 75%!)

    “The ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe has led to an unprecedented exodus of over a million people, from all strata of Zimbabwean society, all desperate to survive.” According to Zimstat a few years ago. But they didn’t migrate to the US so we don’t have to know about them or be compassionate toward their situation. And if we think we’re any different from the migrants, we aren’t. Read Nevil Shute’s, “What Happened to the Corbetts.”
    If my children were starving to death I would at least TRY to save them.

    I like to view country borders like a cell in a human body—there is a border and there is movement across the cell wall for oxygen, nutrients, and water. That movement happens by osmosis, there is no law telling the oxygen to stay on one side, everything moves by osmotic pressure. If there is high pressure on one side there is movement until the pressure is equalized.
    We won’t have a chance at controlling our borders with a “tough guy” president. We will have a chance to improve the border with someone who can influence other nations with diplomacy.

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