More details are emerging about how nearly 50 migrants, many of them from Venezuela, ended up on a pair of surprise flights that the state of Florida sent to Martha’s Vineyard, a ritzy vacation island in Massachusetts, in a widely criticised political stunt.
Migrants say they were promised work papers, jobs and even paid to board the flight and encouraged others to join them.
A 27-year-old Venezuelan migrant named Emmanuel told San Antonio Report that a woman named Perla gave him $200 from “an anonymous benefactor” to recruit fellow asylum-seekers outside a city-run migrant centre in San Antonio, Texas, where the flights originated.
“Perla informed me that in those sanctuary states, the state has the benefits to help migrants,” Emmanuel said. “I’ve just been the mediator because I like to help people.”
“A lot of people really come without plans, they want to come and just work and they have a hand that’ll provide them shelter,” he added. “I just saw it in that way, like a sweet way, doing it for good.”
Later, bystanders said they saw the man tell fellow migrants, “You won’t need a thing,” before boarding the flights.
Both the city of San Antonio and state of Texas have denied any direct involvement with the flights, though they were praised by Texas governor Greg Abbott.
"Though we were not involved in these initial planes to Martha’s Vineyard, we appreciate the support in responding to this national crisis and helping Texans,” his office said in a statement this week. “Governor Abbott encourages and welcomes all his fellow governors to engage in this effort to secure the border and focus on the failing and illegal efforts of the Biden-Harris Administration to continue these reckless open border policies."
The Independent has contacted Florida governor Ron DeSantis, whose office confirmed the state was behind the flights, for comment.
A group of three migrants on the flights described a similar experience to NPR. They said they were told by a woman named Perla they would get expedited work papers and thought they were being taken to Boston.
"She (Perla) offered us help. Help that never arrived," migrant Andres Duarte, a 30-year-old Venezuelan, said. "Now we are here. We got on the plane with a vision of the future, of making it...Look, when you have no money and someone offers help, well, it means a lot."
Another group of migrants told The Associated Press they were approached by a Latina woman outside of a migrant centre in San Antonio, who promised jobs and three months of housing in Washington, New York, Philadelphia or Boston.
They said they were put up in a nearby hotel and given food and gift cards by the woman.
“I am not a victim,” Pedro Luis Torrelaba, 36, said. “I simply feel misled because they told a lie and it has come to nothing.”
The group of migrants, numbering nearly 50, have the legal right to seek asylum in the US, and were already processed by federal officials before being released ahead of planned court appearances.
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