Martha’s Vineyard flights disturb migrant advocates

SAN ANTONIO — After an arduous journey to reach the United States from Venezuela, migrant Israel Garcia thought he had found refuge when federal immigration officials said he could stay in the United States while his case was pending. instance.

But as he stood outside a migrant shelter in Texas this week, he struggled to know where to go and what to do next. Agents had told him he couldn’t work, but a man approached him offering a free flight to Washington, as well as housing and a job.

Garcia, 27, a carpenter, was suspicious.

“To me, it was a false promise,” he said.

Migrant leaders say efforts by GOP governors of Florida and Texas to bus and fly newcomers to places like Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and DC have created an additional level of confusion for migrants. and sparked fears that they would be coerced by deceptive offers to go elsewhere.

The city of San Antonio – where Florida Governor Ron DeSantis chartered flights to transport 50 migrants out of state this week – said on Saturday it was advising migrants “not to accept rides or other assistance from ‘strangers’ outside the Migrant Resource Center. Some of those who took the DeSantis flights say they were approached by a woman named Perla near the shelter. The city said signs were posted providing a national human trafficking hotline.

The shelter can accommodate 700 people and has served more than 24,000 migrants since it opened in July, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration through December. But Catholic Charities is resuming operations in the city on Monday, after the group’s chief executive, Antonio Fernandez, raised concerns about the site recruiting migrants under false pretences.

Fernandez said he plans to install security cameras and asked staff to be on the lookout for scouts lingering outside.

“I’m concerned. Who recruited them? I don’t really know,” he said. “It shows how the system works: they can take them anywhere by lying to them.”

The organization has hired 145 staff, plans to remove the center’s three-day stay limit and offer more services. They will also rename it the “Centro de Bienvenida”, or reception center, and offer food, clothing and case management. Fernandez said the shelter will not accommodate buses provided by Governor Greg Abbott.

Other migrant advocacy groups are also stepping in to heighten vigilance.

The League of United Latin American Citizens posted “Wanted” flyers at San Antonio shelters with a $5,000 reward for “information leading to a positive identification, arrest and conviction” of Perla, the court said. migrant woman approaching them outside the city shelter.

The group’s national president, Domingo Garcia, said Friday that nine Venezuelan migrants at Martha’s Vineyard told him they spoke with Perla before boarding the flights.

“She promised them that they would receive three months of paid work. Under immigration law, they’re here on parole. They have a court date. It is illegal for them to work. It therefore encourages them to work, which is a federal offence. She inspires them to break the law,” Garcia said.

Garcia said all of the migrants crossed the Rio Grande and were detained near the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, before making their way to San Antonio. His group is sending volunteers to Eagle Pass this week to educate migrants about their rights, he said. They also plan to erect migrant billboards along I-35 outside of Eagle Pass and San Antonio, he said, “Warning the danger of strangers with people offering jobs and free transport which are not legitimate services to refugees”.

Other advocates have raised concerns about how migrants in places like Cape Cod, Mass., will handle their cases from afar. Rachel Self, a Boston lawyer who helps migrants, said the US Department of Homeland Security released the migrants with forms that incorrectly stated they would be residing in homeless shelters in Washington state in Florida then told them to register at nearby immigration offices once they arrived.

She said the DHS forms and Florida’s decision to airmail them to Martha’s Vineyard left migrants “terrified” about missing mandatory appointments and being deported without a hearing.

In an interview on Saturday, Self said immigration lawyers had been successful in securing extensions for migrants to register with immigration officials and were trying to find lawyers to defend them against deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which represents the government in deportation proceedings, did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Homeland Security officials pushed back against any suggestion of wrongdoing, saying Saturday they had nothing to do with states’ transportation efforts and did not know which migrants were taken to Martha’s Vineyard or what their parents were saying. forms. Officials said migrants must declare a US address before being released and register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until their case is resolved.

Any information on the forms is based on what migrants have told authorities, officials said.

Officials said they are also giving migrants electronic devices with instructions on how to use them to quickly update their new addresses to avoid missing appointments. DHS does background checks on migrants before releasing them to local shelters, nonprofits or city departments to help them find housing or transportation.

DHS officials criticized Republican governors for failing to coordinate the arrival of buses and planes with state and local governments.

“DHS officials work around the clock to enforce our laws, treat migrants appropriately, and care for those in detention. Unlike those governors, they are not in the business of using vulnerable men, women and children as props for a political coup,” DHS spokesman Luis Miranda said.

Self-proclaimed attorneys have also called for a criminal investigation into the thefts in Florida and plan to file a lawsuit in federal court “to prevent this from happening again.” She said advocates are also warning migrants in Texas and other border states to exercise caution when accepting rides and to avoid scenarios that seem “too good to be true.”

“They are preying on a vulnerable population,” she said of the people who recruited the migrants at the vineyard. “There have been a lot of misrepresentations made here.”

Republicans defended the action, saying border towns were seeing even greater influxes. Federal border agents made nearly 2 million arrests at the southern border this fiscal year, surpassing last year’s total.

The transport of migrants by bus from Texas to Washington continued on Saturday: about fifty migrants, including a one-month-old baby, arrived at the residence of Vice President Harris. The bus sent by Abbott dropped off the migrants, mostly Venezuelans, in front of the Naval Observatory on Saturday morning. The Texas governor also sent three migrant buses to New York on Saturday.

Migrant advocates at the border were working to ensure migrants were better informed of their rights and travel options, but said there were limits to what they could do.

Tiffany Terrier, director of operations for the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition in Del Rio, Texas, said she had “major concerns” about the Martha’s Vineyard thefts, calling them “misleading”.

“There’s nothing transparent about how this operation unfolded,” Burrow said.

She said her group “integrates the awareness of these types of possibilities into our orientation.” But she does not discourage migrants from taking the free buses provided by Abbott.

“At the end of the day, the migrants decide if it is a good fit for their needs,” she said, noting that the day shelter in the small border town, “cannot do much. The migrants are with us for such a short time, often less than half an hour… wherever the final destination is, it makes the most sense to gather this kind of in-depth assistance.

Reverend Gavin Rogers said volunteers from the Corazón Ministries at Travis Park Church were trying to help migrants they met at the downtown bus station, but “political agents are finding people to recruit migrants to travel”.

“It really is a form of human trafficking,” he said. “We try to tell people to follow what is on their asylum papers, to go to the city where they have to go,” to inquire with federal immigration officials. “Ironically, migrants need transportation. The governors of Texas and Florida are so close to helping – if they would just look at the piece of paper that says where they need to be.

Venezuelan migrant Mike Betancourt Vivas was outside the city shelter on Saturday, trying to find a way to get to Washington state. He had crossed the border at Eagle Pass, but had never seen the state buses. If he had the option, he said, he would take one.

“We need a way to get directly to our destination. People here close the door and don’t give us opportunities, just like other countries, like Panama and Costa Rica,” he said.

Betancourt, 26, a construction worker and songwriter with a wife and two daughters stuck in Colombia, said he didn’t mind being a political pawn if it allowed him to travel to Washington for free.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I just want to go.”

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