Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022 get the right to work

Image courtesy of MGN

By Peyton Benbow

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in September 2022. Three of the 49 are now authorized to seek employment after receiving “bona fide determinations,” clearing them to work until a decision is reached on their U visa applications. Bona fide determinations are only given to “eligible victims of qualifying crimes,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

The migrants were flown from Texas to Massachusetts with arrangements made by Florida Gov. Desantis. At the time, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in San Antonio certified that the migrants were legally victims of a crime and has since opened an investigation. Sheriff Javier Salazer of San Antonio said, “Somebody saw fit to come from another state, hunt them down, prey upon them and then take advantage of their desperate situation just for the sake of political theater.” 

After the incident, the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights group filed a lawsuit against Desantis and the airplane company. The pro-bono attorneys argue that the migrants knew they were going to Massachusetts but did not know they’d end up at Martha’s Vineyard, where the majority of work is in seasonal summer labor – work was scarce upon their arrival in September. In turn, the local authorities and Vineyard residents were unaware of their arrival and unprepared to respond.

Last month, Judge Allison Burroughs dismissed Desantis and his administration as possible defendants but allowed the suit to continue against the airplane charter company Vertol Systems. Her ruling criticized the 2022 flight, writing, “Treating vulnerable individuals like Plaintiffs in this way … is nothing short of extreme, outrageous, uncivilized, intolerable, and stunning”.

Desantis is firm that the flight was voluntarily boarded, and no crime was committed in 2022. In an interview last month, Desantis said he might continue sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. “We do have our transport program also that’s going to be operational. So, Haitians land in the Florida Keys, their next stop very well may be Martha’s Vineyard,” the governor said. 

Boston’s Lawyers for Civil Rights attorneys are confident that more bona fide determinations will be granted to the Martha’s Vineyard migrants in the coming weeks. The right to work is intended to give the migrants a sense of stability while they wait for a decision on their U visa petitions.