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A federal judge says migrants can sue the company that flew them to Martha's Vineyard

Venezuelan migrants gather at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal in Marthas Vineyard. The group was transported to Joint Base Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay.
Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Venezuelan migrants gather at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal in Marthas Vineyard. The group was transported to Joint Base Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay.

MIAMI — A federal judge in Boston has ruled that migrants flown from Texas to Martha's Vineyard in 2022 can proceed with a lawsuit against the Florida company that took them there.

The judge also dismissed claims against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials named in the suit.

Three migrants from Venezuela, along with an immigrant rights group, filed the lawsuit. They say that Florida's governor, others in his administration and an air transport company conspired to mislead them and deprive them of their civil rights when they recruited and flew them to Martha's Vineyard in 2022.

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In their lawsuit, the migrants, identified as Yanet, Pablo and Jesus say they were told they were going to Massachusetts, but didn't know their final destination was Martha's Vineyard until shortly before landing.

The plaintiffs say a videographer hired by the DeSantis administration recorded them arriving and boarding vans. But apart from the videographer and van drivers, the plaintiffs say no one else in Martha's Vineyard had any advance notice of their arrival.

In her order, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs says the case can proceed against the air transport company, Vertol. Judge Burroughs dismissed claims against Gov. DeSantis and other members of his administration out of jurisdictional concerns, but did so "without prejudice." That means the legal team representing the migrants can seek to bring DeSantis and others back into the case as it goes forward.

In the 77-page filing, Judge Burroughs had harsh words for those involved in the scheme. "Vertol and the other Defendants here were not legitimately enforcing any immigration laws," she wrote, adding, "the Court sees no legitimate purpose for rounding up highly vulnerable individuals on false pretenses and publicly injecting them into a divisive national debate."

Lawyers for Civil Rights, which represents the migrants, called the ruling "a major victory in the Martha's Vineyard case, and it sends a crucial message: private companies can — and will — be held accountable for helping rogue state actors violate the rights of vulnerable immigrants through illegal and fraudulent schemes."

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But Brian Kelly, a lawyer representing Vertol said, "We are pleased that most of the case has now been dismissed and believe the Lawyers for Civil Rights are once again mistaken in their analysis of the situation."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Greg Allen
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.