A spectacular backfire? Ron DeSantis might have unwittingly helped migrants obtain special visas
Governor Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at a "Unite & Win Rally" at Arizona Financial Theatre in Phoenix. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The estimated 50 migrants who were flown last week to Martha’s Vineyard on planes charted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may have a strong case to receive special visas as a result of the stunt, says a prominent immigration lawyer.

By having enticed the migrants to board the planes under false pretenses, those who lured them – including DeSantis – committed crimes that could qualify the migrants as victims under human trafficking laws, Elizabeth Ricci, whose practice is based in Tallahassee, Fla., told Raw Story.

“Massachusetts officials are looking into criminal action against Ron DeSantis, which would be helpful because that means they would also be willing to sign off that these were, in fact, victims of crime by having been transported under false pretenses”, Ricci said. “Law enforcement does need to sign off for purposes of U Visa eligibility, which is what I believe these immigrants are eligible for. So that's encouraging.”

A U Visa is a special non-immigrant status established by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. It was designed to protect immigrants who were victimized by crimes, and Ricci said this case falls directly under the definition of trafficking. Enforcement can come at the federal, state or local level, she said.

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Ricci said DeSantis unintentionally helped make the case publicly for why the migrants were victims as designed by human trafficking laws.

“DeSantis recently said in a press conference that (the migrants) were told that they would have better lives and jobs when they landed,” Ricci said. “Part of the definition of trafficking under federal and state law is enticement for a better life or jobs. There are other possibilities, too, but in this case, “better life and jobs” was actually what they were told and that falls directly into the definition of trafficking.

“The irony is that these families could actually receive U visas as a result of this, and U Visas lead to permanent residency, which leads to citizenship. So wouldn't that be ironic for them to legalize and become citizens as a result of DeSantis’ actions?”

Ricci acknowledged there is little chance of DeSantis personally getting prosecuted for his actions – “we all know the Governor dismisses those from office with whom he disagrees” – but she added that the migrants have a strong chance of having law enforcement officials initiate the steps they need to apply for a U Visa.

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“From what I’m hearing it seems like there are many officials from local all the way up to Congressional from Massachusetts who are enraged by this political ploy,” Ricci said. “So, I wouldn't be surprised if they had a number of options of law enforcement officers to choose from.”

Ricci said she had read the consent orders that were signed by the migrants. “I didn’t see anything in the orders that would absolve Florida and Texas from anything material” as to human trafficking. The waivers might cover something that happened to them in transit but didn’t speak to this issue of whether they were lured through false pretenses.

“The consent form might absolve the state from liability for an injury (someone tripped on a suitcase in the aisle and broke their ankle-although doubtful because a plane is a common carrier), but not from a criminal act such as trafficking,” Ricci said.

“It’s like if I said to you, ‘Get in my car so we can go for you to pay the drug dealer for the three tons of drugs I’m buying but if we get in an accident on the way, you can’t hold me responsible for criminal charges from conspiracy to sell drugs.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

But even if DeSantis would gain the dubious distinction of becoming the first governor whose own misconduct resulted in citizenship for immigrants he was trying to keep out, would he care? Here’s Ricci’s take:

“I think it's more to help himself politically, but I do think there is an element of malice here.”

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