A 27-year-old Venezuelan migrant told the San Antonio Report Thursday he was paid $200 in cash to recruit people from outside San Antonio’s migrant resource center to board a flight that landed at Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday.
Emmanuel, who declined to give a reporter his last name, said a woman he knows as “Perla” told him she wanted to send migrants to “sanctuary states” where the government has more resources to help them.
He said he gave Perla contact information for about 10 migrants he met near the migrant center.
“Perla informed me that in those sanctuary states, the state has the benefits to help migrants,” Emmanuel said in Spanish over the phone. “I’ve just been the mediator because I like to help people.”
Roughly 50 migrants recruited from around the resource center were reportedly placed on a pair of chartered flights that left Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on Wednesday and flew to Florida and at least one other stop before landing in Martha’s Vineyard.
Officials there said they had no warning the migrants were coming. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for the flights, telling media outlets it was part of his state’s program to relocate migrants to a “sanctuary destination.”
NPR and other outlets reported that the migrants now in Martha’s Vineyard said they were told jobs and housing would be waiting for them, echoing what Emmanuel told the San Antonio Report.
Perla said that she had no involvement in organizing the flights and that she just wanted to help people and sign them up to board the flight, according to Emmanuel.
When Perla first offered to pay Emmanuel for the migrants’ contact information, he was hesitant.
He said Perla said she got the money from an “anonymous benefactor” and that the flight was paid for by that person.
Emmanuel said he ended up giving her the contact info because he wants to help people.
“A lot of people really come without plans, they want to come and just work and they have a hand that’ll provide them shelter,” he said. “I just saw it in that way, like a sweet way, doing it for good.”
He shared a picture of a business card with Perla’s first name and cell phone number from the Del Rio area in a WhatsApp message. No one answered the phone on Thursday evening.
San Antonio Deputy City Manager María Villagómez said in a statement Thursday the city was not aware or involved with the flights.
“The San Antonio Migrant Resource Center was set up as a safe and welcoming place for migrants traveling through San Antonio to their host city destination,” she said. “As a city, we believe migrants seeking asylum should be treated with kindness and respect.”
Migrants near the McDonald’s parking lot across from the migrant resource center Thursday evening said they knew who Emmanuel was because he has been in the area for weeks picking up odd jobs. They said he had befriended some of the migrants who no longer had access to the center, but stuck around hoping to be hired for day labor.
Several said they heard Emmanuel tell other migrants that if they boarded the flight to Massachusetts, “No te faltara nada,” “You won’t need a thing.” They declined to give a reporter their names.
Witnesses including Emmanuel described Perla as having blonde hair and driving a white truck.
Photojournalist Nick Wagner contributed to this story.