The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion DeSantis must be called to account for tricking migrants

Immigrants gather Sept. 14 with their belongings outside a church on Martha's Vineyard. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP)

Florida paid roughly $32,604 for each one of 48 migrants, corralled by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and tricked into believing they would be sent to a promised land of abundant jobs and government cash support. Instead they were flown to Martha’s Vineyard for maximum publicity — all at the expense of Sunshine State taxpayers. The migrants, mainly Venezuelans, were not only pawns in Mr. DeSantis’s political game; they were potentially defrauded. The governor and those who assisted him should face a reckoning — and they may, in court.

In Texas, Javier Salazar, the Democratic sheriff whose county includes San Antonio, where the migrants were duped into signing up for Mr. DeSantis’s scheme, has opened a criminal investigation. Whether or not criminal charges ensue, details that have emerged about how the gambit unfolded could bolster a class-action suit on the migrants’ behalf against Mr. DeSantis and others.

According to the New York Times, the woman who recruited the migrants in supermarket aisles, parking lots and elsewhere is Perla Huerta, a former Army counterintelligence agent. She informed neither the migrants nor a Venezuelan man she enlisted to help her that she was working on Florida’s behalf or at Mr. DeSantis’s instigation. The governor claims the trip was “clearly voluntary.” But the information Ms. Huerta provided the migrants, who had been allowed into the United States to await hearings on their asylum applications, was designed to hoodwink them — with promises of steady jobs, along with a pamphlet promising “up to eight months of cash assistance.” In fact, cash assistance is routinely provided to foreign nationals who arrive under the official U.S. refugee program, generally after years of screening; asylum seekers, such as those exploited by Mr. DeSantis, are not eligible for that program or aid.

In the process of executing his airborne political theater, the Florida governor tapped roughly $1.6 million of the $12 million appropriated by the state legislature for transporting unauthorized migrants elsewhere. To the governor’s apparent chagrin, few such migrants have arrived lately in his own state — and an outcry followed the suggestion by Florida’s lieutenant governor, in August, that the governor might ship undocumented Cubans out of state. Hence the migrant recruitment in Texas for flights — arranged with an aviation firm close to Mr. DeSantis’s political cronies — that satisfied the niceties of state law by touching down in Florida en route to Martha’s Vineyard.

On arriving there, the migrants surprised local volunteer aid organizations, which were given no advance notice but nonetheless greeted and helped the migrants graciously. That gave the lie to Mr. DeSantis’s hyperbolic predictions that liberal states would suffer meltdowns should they receive migrants.

Migrants who cross the southern border are not an invading army. They are nearly always individuals and families seeking a decent job at a living wage in a safe and secure place, all of which they lack at home. Those circumstances do not entitle them to a foothold in this country; in fact, relatively few asylum applications are approved by immigration judges. But they do deserve to be treated with civility and dealt with honestly.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Associate Editor Jonathan Capehart (national politics); Lee Hockstader (immigration; issues affecting Virginia and Maryland); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).