Migrants’ attorneys want lawsuit against Ron DeSantis over Martha’s Vineyard flights to stay in Massachusetts

The lawyers representing migrants suing Florida Gov. Ron Desantis for flying them to Martha’s Vineyard months ago filed a new motion to keep the litigation in Massachusetts.

The attorneys for the group of about 50 migrants mostly from Venezuela want a judge to reject changing the venue of the lawsuit to Florida, according to the Boston Herald.

“Defendants chose to send class plaintiffs to Massachusetts, and Martha’s Vineyard specifically, because they believed it presented the ideal conditions to abandon the individual plaintiffs, catch a small community off guard, generate the most media coverage, and harm their political opponents,” the motion says.

If DeSantis, his administration, and the private companies said to have helped coordinate flying the migrants from San Antonio, Texas, briefly to Florida and then to the Massachusetts island last September wanted to “‘protect litigants, witnesses and the public against unnecessary inconvenience and expense,’ they could have chosen to forgo this scheme and leave the individual plaintiffs alone entirely,” the migrants’ attorneys wrote in court documents filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts last week.

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“Instead, the defendants manufactured this stunt from beginning to end – recruiting individuals in Texas to highlight an issue supposedly affecting Florida, choosing the island where former President Obama owns property – and now feign indignance that they should have to answer for their actions and may be held responsible in the district that they targeted,” they added.

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DeSantis administration lawyers have argued that Massachusetts state law permitting courts to obtain personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants does not apply to state government entities, noting the Republican governor and other defendants would be subjected to a “burden of appearing” because they are 1,300-plus miles away in Florida.

DeSantis’ team further contends Massachusetts has “minimal” interest in adjudicating the dispute, and the District of Massachusetts does not have jurisdiction over Florida state defendants “for the independent reason that sovereign immunity prohibits Massachusetts from hauling a sister state and its officials into Massachusetts courts .”

“To be sure, the planes landed in Massachusetts. But plaintiffs’ claims all arose before the plane touched down,” the lawyers representing DeSantis’ administration wrote in court documents.

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Migrants leave Martha's Vineyard for Cape Cod military base

Venezuelan migrants gather at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal in September 2022. The group was transported to Joint Base Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay.

The initial lawsuit accused DeSantis of carrying a “fraudulent and illegal scheme,” breaking federal law, and violating constitutional rights. It alleges the Republican Florida governor and his transportation secretary, Jared Perdue, interfered with the “orderly administration of the federal immigration system.”

“Defendants and their unidentified accomplices designed and executed a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting this vulnerability for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests,” it says.

Also last week, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1718, a state immigration bill cleared by the Republican legislature “to combat the dangerous effects of illegal immigration caused by the federal government’s borderless border policies.” The legislation makes using E-Verify mandatory for any employer with 25 or more employees, imposes enforceable penalties for those employing illegal immigrants, and increases penalties for human smuggling.

The bill also prohibits local governments from issuing IDs to illegal immigrants, invalidates ID cards issued to illegal immigrants in other states, and requires hospitals to collect and submit data at the cost of providing health care to illegal aliens.

The legislation also allocates $12 million to continue the “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program” to relocate illegal immigrants to sanctuary jurisdictions.

The initiative started with the flights to the liberal enclave of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, which had touted broad support for sanctuary policies. Local leadership quickly claimed the wealthy islanders did not have enough resources to support the migrants who were bussed to a military base in Cape Cod. The move was intended to challenge Democrats’ hypocrisy toward asylum seekers and protest federal immigration policy under the Biden administration.