Migrants Flown to Martha’s Vineyard Closer to Getting Victim Visas

Migrants Flown to Martha’s Vineyard Closer to Getting Victim Visas

By Sarah Betancourt | GBH

Many of the migrants who were sent to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 have cleared a significant hurdle in their efforts to obtain visas for people considered victims of crime.

That’s according to a document shared with GBH News and two attorneys who represent some of the 49 migrants. The migrants weren’t aware they were part of a political ruse and that they were going to Massachusetts from Texas.

Boston-based attorney Rachel Self told GBH News on Monday that they’ve started to receive federal documents called “bona fide determinations” meant for immigrants to gain so-called U-visas from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The documents will allow migrants to apply for work authorization and protect them from deportation during the processing of their application — because they are victims of a possible crime.

“It’s what we have known from day one,” said Self, who represents some of the migrants. ”Anyone who has looked at what happened to these individuals, anyone that has seen the evidence in this case cannot ignore the criminality of the actors.”

Adriana Lafaille, managing attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said some of the nine migrants the ACLU of Massachusetts represents also have received similar documents.

“It’s really important that these U-visa certifications were issued because they send a message that no one is free to victimize people just because they’re at their most vulnerable,” said Lafaille. “Newly arrived immigrants have the protections of the law.”

The documents are a significant step forward for the migrants, some of which are still living and working in Massachusetts, and even Martha’s Vineyard.

As part of the ploy, DeSantis, a Republican, sent staff to San Antonio, Texas, to try to determine who might be heading to Florida, according to court documents and previous interviews. Several migrants were approached, offered McDonald’s gift certificates, and a hotel room to sleep in. They were promised that they’d be flown to New York, Washington, D.C., and other locations, and assured they’d get housing and jobs.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar in Texas and his office investigated the situation in his jurisdiction and interviewed migrants. Based off that investigation, he certified that the migrants had been victims of qualifying criminal activity, a required and important step in the process.

The visa determinations come weeks after a federal judge in Boston said some of the migrants can proceed with their lawsuit against Florida-based Vertol Systems Co. the company that agreed to fly them for over $600,000. The judge dismissed claims against DeSantis and other officials named in the suit out of jurisdictional concerns.

In the complaint, attorneys described one migrant as feeling tricked. “Upon arrival in Martha’s Vineyard, Plaintiff Yanet Doe felt helpless, defrauded, and desperate. She started crying. She felt anxious and confused.”

But the process toward stability for the migrants is nowhere near complete. It can take more than a decade to get a U-visa, which is a path to permanent residency. The federal government has a cap of 10,000 granted annually, with a backlog of 210,000 pending applications.

Many of the migrants have also applied for asylum and Temporary Protected Status, a program that allows migrants from certain countries with unsafe conditions to live and work in the United States for a limited amount of time.

A spokesman for the US Citizenship and Immigrations Services told GBH News that the federal agency, “is committed to adjudicating petitions in a timely and efficient manner.” The agency doesn’t comment on specific cases.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.