Top Florida officials added to lawsuit over Martha’s Vineyard migrant flights

Immigration Transporting Migrants (Cape Cod Times)
Immigration Transporting Migrants (Cape Cod Times)

A civil rights group that has sued Florida governor Ron DeSantis for tricking two planeloads of South and Central American asylum seekers into boarding charter flights bound for the liberal Massachusetts community of Martha’s Vineyard has added two top Sunshine State officials as defendants in their lawsuit.

An amended complaint filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights now lists Mr DeSantis’ chief of staff, James Uthmeier, and Florida “public safety czar” Larry Keefe as defendants, as well as a woman named Perla Huerta, who according to court documents is believed to have served as the “lead recruiter” of the migrants, who were found near San Antonio, Texas.

“The object of this scheme was not to help immigrants find a better life in northern cities but to use political fervor over immigration to boost Defendant DeSantis’ national profile,” the attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

The attorneys added that the defendants purposefully failed to inform Massachusetts state officials of the incoming flights to create a “perverse photo opportunity” by making sure Martha’s Vineyard residents were not prepared to assist the migrants.

The amended complaint also lists as a defendant a man called James Montgomerie, who runs a Florida-based aviation company called Vertol Systems, as well as the company itself. Attorneys accused the defendants of having conspired to dupe the migrants into “participating in a political stunt” by promising them jobs and assistance in a northern state.

“Defendants knew that none of the immigrants—who had just escaped poverty, political turmoil, and, in some cases, violence—would readily volunteer for their scheme and be sent to an isolated town as fodder for the national media. So, Defendants lied to Class Plaintiffs about the true purpose of the trip, who was behind it, where the planes were headed, and what they could expect when they landed,” they said.

In a statement, Lawyers for Civil Rights Executive Director Iván Espinoza-Madrigal said “all actors” who were “ involved in this effort to exploit our clients for political or monetary gain will be held accountable”.