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Opinion The identity of ‘Perla’ is revealed, creating new woes for DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

The political mystique of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rests partly on the illusion that he wields absolute “own the libs” mastery over the various assorted enemies the right has decided to hate these days. It’s why he’s seen as a 2024 GOP contender who has the capacity to channel the ugliest of MAGA pathologies even more effectively than Donald Trump did.

But new revelations about DeSantis’s flying of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard — including the unmasking of “Perla,” who allegedly scammed them into getting onto planes — show why this illusion will be increasingly difficult to pull off.

The New York Times has now identified that person as Perla Huerta, describing her as a “former combat medic and counterintelligence agent.” This opens the door to a host of new inquiries that could implicate DeSantis more deeply in the scheme’s sordid aspects.

Specifically, lawyers for migrants suing DeSantis tell me they are moving to name Perla Huerta as a defendant in the lawsuit. They say this could pave the way to deposing her for details about the DeSantis administration’s potential involvement in deceiving the migrants.

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“Now we will have to fully ascertain her identity, and exercise our right to amend the complaint,” Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, a lawyer for migrants who are suing DeSantis and other Florida officials, told me.

The lawsuit alleges that migrants in San Antonio were targeted with “false promises and false representations” to induce them to board flights, which then traveled to Florida and then on to Massachusetts. Those “false promises” included jobs, housing and other things, the suit alleges, naming “Perla” as a key figure migrants reported encountering.

Along with details about Huerta’s military and intelligence background, the Times reports that migrants were given a folder after Perla approached them:

Also in the folder was a brochure, apparently fake, titled “Refugee Migrant Benefits,” in English and Spanish. The cover proclaimed, “Massachusetts Welcomes You,” and featured a state flag that was not current. Listed on the back were the names and numbers of a church, a synagogue and a nonprofit on Martha’s Vineyard.
The pamphlet, reviewed by The Times, also promised “up to eight months of cash assistance” for “income-eligible” refugees in Massachusetts, apparently mimicking benefits offered to refugees who arrive in the United States through the country’s official resettlement program, which the Venezuelans were not part of.

We’re still missing a direct link between Huerta and the DeSantis administration’s role in the plot. We know a Florida government contract reportedly paid $1.6 million for flights to a company with ties to influential Florida Republicans.

Huerta could help fill in any such links. The lawsuit names other “Doe Defendants” whom migrants reported as involved; the Times reports on one potential such person, a man who helped Huerta appeal to the migrants. These could ultimately be identified as well.

Oren Sellstrom, another lawyer for the migrants, tells me next steps will include trying to serve Huerta as a defendant, then attempting discovery and a deposition of her under oath. These might produce documents relevant to the plot that Huerta possesses, he says, and determine the DeSantis administration’s role in any deliberate deceit of the migrants.

“What exact instructions were given to Perla and others?” Sellstrom asked, to illustrate coming lines of inquiry. “Who put her up to it?” As Sellstrom noted about DeSantis, “We will, as the case proceeds, learn even more about his involvement.”

DeSantis, of course, publicly took credit for the migrant stunt, apparently calculating that this glorious owning of hypocritical blue America would thrill the national GOP primary electorate. After this, he made a great show of vowing that migrant flights to liberal strongholds would continue.

But then another purported plan to fly migrants to a Delaware airport near President Biden’s home was quietly scrapped, and DeSantis has refused to release the state’s contract with the company executing the flights. As experts in Florida law suggested, all this could mean DeSantis’s lawyers advised him they were legally problematic.

If DeSantis is standing down, of course, that would run counter to his use of these stunts to manufacture the impression of himself fearlessly owning the libs and striking a heroic blow on behalf of border states in the process.

The idea that these stunts illustrate what border states cope with under current asylum policies is the only sort-of serious justification their defenders have mustered. But blue states already bear a large share of the burden of migrants awaiting asylum hearings. The whole underlying rationale has fallen apart.

Beyond this, though, if DeSantis is forced to back off or faces actual consequences, either could have broader ramifications, both for his expected 2024 run and for our politics more broadly.

As Brian Beutler argues, it’s critical that the country understands the truly sordid and potentially criminal nature of DeSantis’s scheme. This would illustrate how central the toxic combination of official corruption and racist agitprop has become to GOP politics these days.

By contrast, developing this further, if DeSantis pays no serious political or legal price here, it could have immense implications for what Republicans — especially MAGA-adjacent ones — decide they can get away with going forward. Ominously, that could include how the next GOP presidential administration might seek to weaponize the state against the liberal enemy.

So a great deal is riding on the full truth coming out. The unmasking of “Perla” suggests this story could get a lot uglier.

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