(The Hill) — Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar on Thursday certified that the group of migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last month by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) were victims of a crime, qualifying them to obtain a visa.
Salazar, the Bexar County sheriff, submitted certification documents that will allow the nearly 50 migrants to apply for U visas, which grant crime victims nonimmigrant status in the U.S. to ensure that they are available as witnesses during investigations or trials.
“Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” Salazar said in a statement to GBH News.
The Venezuelan nationals transported to Martha’s Vineyard were reportedly given false information about where they were going and the support they would receive at the destination.
The certification comes a day after the Department of the Treasury announced that it would investigate DeSantis’s usage of COVID-19 relief money and the “allowability” of funding migrant transportation with that money or interest earned on it.
Salazar opened an investigation into the Martha’s Vineyard incident soon after it occurred, claiming that the migrants were “lured” under “false pretenses.”
The sheriff told Massachusetts news station WGBH that his office has identified suspects in the investigation but is not releasing names publicly as the probe proceeds.
The Hill has reached out to Salazar for comment.
Immigration attorneys, including Rachel Self, are working with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office to interview the migrants as part of the criminal investigation.
“Since the day they landed on Martha’s Vineyard, it has been clear to all who spoke to them that the migrants had been preyed upon and victimized,” Self wrote to The Hill in a statement.
“These certifications will ensure that the migrants can continue to help our law enforcement officials, and that they will be able to process and heal from the incredibly traumatic experiences they have suffered as a result of the cruel, heartless acts committed against them.”
The migrants have also filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis based on allegations of “fraud” and “misrepresentation.”
“Defendants manipulated them, stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process and equal protection under law, and impermissibly interfered with the Federal Government’s exclusive control over immigration in furtherance of an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda,” reads the lawsuit, referring to its plaintiffs.