Governor’s aides added to migrants lawsuit

A Venezuelan migrant is led onto a bus at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Sept. 16 in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. A group of migrants were flown to the island from Texas, leaving them stranded.

Two top aides to Gov. Ron DeSantis were added as defendants Tuesday in a potential class-action lawsuit stemming from the DeSantis administration flying 49 migrants from Texas to Massachusetts in September.

An amended version of the lawsuit added DeSantis public-safety adviser Larry Keefe and DeSantis Chief of Staff James Uthmeier as defendants. Also, it added Vertol Systems Company, Inc., which received a state contract to provide the flights; James Montgomerie, the company’s president; and Perla Huerta, who allegedly led efforts to recruit migrants around San Antonio, Texas.

The lawsuit, whose plaintiffs include the group Alianza Americas and individuals, makes a series of allegations, including violations of constitutional due-process and equal-protection rights. The case was initially filed in September in federal court in Massachusetts and named as defendants DeSantis, Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and then-unidentified people who recruited migrants.

DeSantis, who is widely considered a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, frequently rails against Biden administration immigration policies. The flights took the migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, with a stop in the Northwest Florida community of Crestview.

“Defendants intentionally and invidiously targeted class plaintiffs because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, and/or status as non-citizens,” the amended lawsuit said.

“They specifically preyed on recent immigrants — and in particular, on recent Latinx immigrants from Venezuela and Peru — because they believed that transporting Latinx immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard would fuel greater political outcry about unauthorized crossings at the Southern border than if white or other non-Latinx immigrants were targeted and because they believed that such immigrants would lack resources and be susceptible to their false offers of jobs, services, and benefits.”

To pay for the flights, the DeSantis administration tapped into part of $12 million that Florida lawmakers earmarked in the state budget to transport undocumented immigrants.

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