Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent around 50 Venezuelan migrants on flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. The migrants claim they were promised money and job opportunities, but instead arrived on the island, stranded with no pre-arranged support.
Earlier this week, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar opened a criminal investigation into DeSantis’ relocation program. And just yesterday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group, filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis on behalf of the migrants. At the same time, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has encouraged more governors to send migrants on planes or buses around the country — a stunt he’s previously pulled — which he says puts focus on what he calls the failing and illegal efforts of President Joe Biden’s administration to secure the border.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, a political reporter for NPR’s The Texas Newsroom, joined GBH host Arun Rath to explain the Texas governor’s participation and reaction. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: We’ve heard the Texas governor’s office has been supportive of Ron DeSantis’ decision to send these flights to Martha’s Vineyard. But have they been involved at all in carrying out the stunt? What is DeSantis’ relationship with Texas officials throughout all of this?
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán: So, we still don’t know. And that’s something that we’re trying to better understand. What we do know is that Gov. Abbott’s office has said that the governor was not involved in these initial planes to Martha’s Vineyard. A spokesperson for the Texas governor did say, though, that the governor has had conversations with Gov. DeSantis of Florida and his team and that they are appreciative of his support.
Rath: And as you mentioned, Gov. Greg Abbott has engaged in similar strategies, sending buses of people to Washington, D.C., and to New York. Do you see this being something that he’s going to continue to pursue, especially given what seems like a growing risk of criminal investigations?
Martínez-Beltrán: Oh, absolutely. You know, over the last few months, like you mentioned, unauthorized migrants who have arrived in Texas and are awaiting their asylum hearing have been offered a free ride to D.C., New York and Chicago as part of Gov. Abbott’s initiative to push back against the Biden administration. This program was first launched in April. And what we have seen is that it has created some logistical issues in the bigger cities, but also in smaller towns.
You know, we have reported on how migrants have disembarked these buses along the way in smaller towns like Chattanooga, Tennessee. As you might imagine, these smaller towns, just like Martha’s Vineyard, don’t necessarily have the infrastructure or the resources to assist and support an influx of migrants. But that’s exactly what Gov. Abbott wants to happen, right? He said that the reason why he’s sending migrants all across the country is so other states and other communities have a feel of what he says is happening in Texas. And what we’ve seen is that the other Republican governors, like the one in Arizona and Gov. DeSantis in Florida, have been inspired by Abbott’s initiative and have also started transporting migrants out of state.
Rath: Now the Bexar County sheriff has opened an investigation into Ron DeSantis. Do you think that’s likely that Greg Abbott might face similar scrutiny?
Martínez-Beltrán: You know, that’s a good question. I think that what Javier Salazar, the sheriff of Bexar County, has said is that he’s really trying to figure out whether there is a criminal aspect to all of this. It sounds like there is, according to Javier Salazar, right? We have heard that there was a person that has been luring the migrants into accepting this invitation. They say that she promised the migrants to go to Boston to get some financial assistance and she even guaranteed them three months of work. I’ve talked to certain attorneys who have said that part of promising these migrants three months of work when they’re not allowed to work legally in the United States is a conspiracy to commit a crime. And that person could face a criminal investigation and criminal charges over this. But we don’t know if that person was working directly with Gov. DeSantis, if Gov. DeSantis knew about the promises that this “recruiter” was making to these migrants. So I think that we still don’t know who’s actually going to be facing criminal charges out of this.
What we do know, though, is that Gov. Abbott seems to not be in the eye of this Bexar County potential investigation, because what the governor has done is offer these migrants this free ride on a volunteer basis. Migrants are the ones who choose whether they want to board the buses and usually they know if they’re going to end up in D.C., New York and Chicago. Contrary to what we saw with this unprecedented move of getting migrants on a plane and promising them to land somewhere, and actually ended up in another place like Martha’s Vineyard.
Rath: Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the Texas political reporter for NPR’s The Texas Newsroom. It’s been great speaking with you, Sergio. Thank you for this perspective.
Martínez-Beltrán: Thanks for having me.