The migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard by Florida last week are getting death threats, lawyers representing them in a federal class action lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday.
The federal judge presiding over the civil case approved the lawyers' request for anonymity, according to court records, which one of their lawyers characterize as "the first victory for migrants who have experienced human rights violations at the hand of Gov. DeSantis, the state of Florida and other perpetrators."
Ivan Espinoza Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, also said at a virtual news conference that the lawsuit also allows the team of lawyers to represent "all similarly situated migrants across the country who have been fraudulently induced by Gov. DeSantis in Florida to cross state lines through misrepresentations."
The group of about 50 migrants at the heart of the lawsuit were flown last week to Martha's Vineyard after fleeing Venezuela. DeSantis' office has acknowledged facilitating the two flights, delivering the people from Texas.
The civil lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Massachusetts against DeSantis, the state of Florida and its transportation secretary, Jared Perdue.
"The perpetrators abandoned them without shelter, food, resources or support on Martha's Vineyard," said Mirian Albert, a staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.
The lawsuit includes descriptions of several of migrants' experiences, including one woman and her family who allegedly learned they were headed to Martha's Vineyard while they were already in the air. The suit says the family is now concerned that they could be deported if they are unable to show up to their scheduled court appointments.
In a statement to NBC News Wednesday, DeSantis' office told NBC News in a statement Wednesday that the migrants "opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts."
"It is opportunistic that activists would use illegal immigrants for political theater," the statement said. "If these activists spent even a fraction of this time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration’s reckless border policies that entice illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often lethal journeys through Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and Coyotes."
Florida officials said immigrants, "homeless, hungry, and abandoned," traveled to Martha's Vineyard voluntarily.
"Florida’s program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state and these individuals opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts. It was disappointing that Martha’s Vineyard called in the Massachusetts National Guard to bus them away from the island within 48 hours," the statement said.
Espinoza Madrigal noted that Florida officials have referred to consent forms signed by the migrants, but said, "the form was not fully translated. It was missing material information that was needed for our clients to make an informed decision."
Lawyers for Civil Rights was joined in the lawsuit by Alianza Americas.
"For the governor of Florida to cynically use recently arrived immigrants who have applied for asylum in the U.S., to advance a hate-driven agenda intended to create confusion and rejection throughout the country, is not only morally despicable, but utterly contrary to the best traditions of humanitarian protection embraced by most Americans," Oscar Chacón, Alianza Americas’ executive director, said in a release announcing the news conference. "That is why we have taken the step to legally challenge what we view not only as a morally reprehensible action, but what we believe is also illegal."
The suit said the migrants fled Venezuela and crossed the U.S. southern border, before surrendering to federal immigration officials.
According to the suit, some unidentified people allegedly working with DeSantis had been "trolling streets outside of a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locales, pretending to be good Samaritans offering humanitarian assistance."
A sheriff in Texas announced Monday that he had opened an investigation into last week's flights to Martha's Vineyard, which originated in his county.