Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has launched a criminal investigation into a chartered flight sponsored by the state of Florida that took migrants in San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.
Salazar said that the migrants, who were in San Antonio waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, were induced to take the trip with offers of jobs, housing, and food. Dianne Solis, an immigration and social justice reporter for The Dallas Morning News, spoke to the Texas Standard about the investigation. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Yesterday, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced he was going to look into this group of migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard from San Antonio. Why does he think something illegal may have happened here?
Diane Solis: He thinks that the immigrants were lured under false pretenses to take buses and that there was a woman who coerced the migrants to get on planes and promised jobs, allegedly. And housing and food.
Oh, false pretenses. Say a little bit more about that. I know that a lot of migrants say they have come to escape awful poverty and violent situations in their home countries looking for opportunity. And of course, Gov. Abbott has said that he’s just allowing people to move to other parts of the country. What distinguishes what it was that Gov. DeSantis may or may not have done here? I mean, why is it that there’s not an investigation of what Gov. Abbott’s doing if, in fact, Bexar County’s sheriff wants to look into what Florida’s governor is doing?
In the case of Gov. Abbott in Texas, his team has consistently said that immigrants who volunteered to get on the bus. We haven’t heard of any promise of jobs or food or housing. We’ve been in Washington, D.C. and we’ve interviewed immigrants about their free transport, and they have largely been happy to take a free ride to get closer to where they’re going. In the case of the Florida governor, there are charges and allegations that there were false pretenses in that people were promised jobs and housing and food. That’s very different – or appears to be different – than what Texas Gov. Abbott has done.
Is it clear why DeSantis would be recruiting people for this trip from San Antonio and not somewhere in Florida?
That’s an excellent question. The DeSantis team has been accused of using people for a political stunt, for a video op, for a media event.
It’s my understanding, too, that the Bexar County sheriff has not been shy in criticizing Republican governors who have been busing migrants to other places. How much of a factor is politics or at least the perception of politics with regard to this criminal investigation?
Politics certainly seems to be an element in this, in that you have the Democrats and the Republicans on separate teams. As to the merits of a case. I’ve spoken to two attorneys on this, and they don’t think that a human trafficking case can be developed because you need the use of force, for example. So the case would turn on some other kind of charge. And the sheriff, Javier Salazar, hasn’t specified exactly what the charge would be, but he has clearly said that there were false pretenses in getting these migrants to get on a plane and go to Florida and then to Martha’s Vineyard.
Could Gov. DeSantis, be held personally or criminally liable?
That I don’t know. One troubling element of the case is that the lawyers charge that the DeSantis team interfered with federal immigration proceedings and made it more difficult for these migrants to make their immigration court appearances. And some of those court appearances were not in Massachusetts. And if you don’t show up, you can be ordered, removed or deported in absentia. This is quite serious.