SAN ANTONIO - A Texas sheriff has certified 49 migrants flown from San Antonio to Massachusetts last month to be crime victims, a move that allows them to apply for special visas to remain in the United States.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar’s certifications allow the mostly Venezuelan migrants to apply for special U-visas pending his department’s investigation of the Sept. 14 flight to Martha’s Vineyard, according to an ACLU Massachusetts statement Thursday. U-visas would allow the migrants to remain in the U.S. lawfully as the criminal investigation by Salazar’s department and the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office proceeds.
In another statement, Salazar said that "based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible unlawful restraint," a misdemeanor.
"We have suspects identified, however at this point in the investigation we are not at liberty to release those names publicly or confirm any identities," he said.
The flight has been criticized as a political stunt carried out by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to appeal to his conservative base. DeSantis is running for reelection this year and is frequently mentioned as a potential 2024 presidential candidate.
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"We are grateful for Sheriff Salazar’s recognition of the gravity of these events," said Carol Rose, executive director of ACLU Massachusetts. These certifications are an acknowledgment of the wrongs done to our clients and a crucial step in helping them to chart their path forward. Immigrants are human beings, not political props."
Salazar assured that "only those who were physically in our jurisdiction at the time of the offense are considered suspects." That would likely leave DeSantis out as a suspect.
A message seeking comment from DeSantis was not immediately returned.
The Treasury Department’s internal watchdog is investigating whether DeSantis improperly used federal pandemic aid to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as part of his effort to "transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations."