Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has hit back at 'opportunistic activists' who engaged in 'political theater' by claiming in a lawsuit he 'exploited' a group of migrants he flew to Martha's Vineyard.
The class action suit, filed in the District of Massachusetts, alleges the governor 'designed and executed a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting [the migrants] for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests.'
It came after DeSantis arranged for 50 migrants to be flown out to the wealthy island off Massachusetts, in a move that set off a firestorm in the political war over immigration.
But his office is now defending his actions, claiming each of the migrants were required to sign consent forms before they boarded a chartered plane to the island.
In a statement to FOX News, his spokesman said the lawsuit is just 'political theater' perpetrated by 'opportunistic activists' at the expense of the illegal immigrants.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hit back at a lawsuit claiming he exploited illegal immigrants he flew to Martha's Vineyard last week, calling it 'political theater.' The governor is pictured earlier this month at a press conference announcing expanded toll relief for commuters
Spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said all of the migrants were required to sign this consent form, provided in both English and Spanish, before boarding the plane
'If these activists spent even a fraction of this time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration's reckless border policies that entice illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often lethal journey through Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and coyotes,' she said in a statement.
Fenske added that the journey to Martha's Vineyard was done 'on a voluntary basis,' and shared a consent form she said each of the migrants was required to sign before they boarded the plane.
The forms, provided in English and Spanish, were apparently copied from Texas Gov Greg Abbott, who originally started busing migrants to Washington DC and New York City.
It says: 'I agree to hold the benefactor or its designed representatives harmless of all liability arising out of or in any way relating to any injuries and damages that may occur during the agreed transport to locations outside of Texas until the final destination in Massachusetts.'
'The immigrants were homeless, hungry and abandoned — and these activists didn't care about them,' Fenske said.
She added: 'Florida's program gave them a fresh start in a sanctuary state, and these individuals opted to take advantage of chartered flights to Massachusetts.
'It was disappointing that Martha's Vineyard called in the Massachusetts National Guard to bus them away from the island within 48 hours.'
Migrants, who arrived on a flight sent by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, gather with their belongings outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church last Wednesday in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard
DeSantis sent two planes of 50 migrants to the affluent island yesterday, and is now threatening to send more to Delaware - following in the 'blueprint' of Texas Gov Greg Abbott
The lawsuit was brought by three migrants and one immigration group.
They said in a court filing that the migrants fled crime-riddled Venezuela and upon crossing the border immediately surrendered themselves to immigration authorities. They said they have been authorized to remain in the U.S. until their court proceedings.
The migrants also claim that those working on DeSantis' scheme trolled outside of an immigration shelter in San Antonio, Texas in Bexar County 'pretending to be good Samaritans and offering humanitarian assistance.'
To gain trust, they allegedly offered $10 McDonald's gift cards.
'The Doe Defendants then made false promises and false representations that if Plaintiffs and class members were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival.
'Next, the Defendants put class members up for free in hotels, sequestered away from the migrant center, and from the possibility of actual good Samaritans finding out how the class members were being abused,' the court filing reads.
The DeSantis administration then paid $615,000 for two private chartered planes, $12,300 per passenger, to transport migrants to Martha's Vineyard.
The defendants say the DeSantis administration told them they were flying to Boston or Washington, D.C.
'Defendants concealed from Plaintiffs their true purpose of facilitating travel, which was to make a political point about federal immigration policy,' the filing reads.
The migrants are requesting compensatory, emotional distress, and punitive damages, their attorney costs to be covered and for DeSantis to be stopped from 'inducing immigrants to travel across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation.'
Earlier on Tuesday DeSantis hit back at New York Democrat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries who called him a 'human trafficker' over the stunt.
'When Biden is flying these people all over the fruited plain in the middle of the night, I didn't hear a peep out of those people!' the Florida Republican said.
His office released a statement backing their decision Tuesday morning:
'Immigrants have been more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless, and 'left to fend for themselves.' Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected. Unless the MA national guard has abandoned these individuals, they have been provided accommodations, sustenance, clothing and more options to succeed following their unfair enticement into the United States.'
Groups of migrants sit outside the Migrant Resource Center on September 19, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas
Massachusetts called in its National Guard to handle the few dozen migrants and the migrants were shuttled to a military base in Cape Cod after Gov. Charlie Baker said that the billionaire's enclave was 'not equipped to provide sustainable accommodation' to the migrants.
DeSantis ripped a page out of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's playbook with the political move. Abbott had bussed thousands of migrants to liberal sanctuary cities like Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago.
On Tuesday DeSantis was expected to send a group of migrants to Delaware, though the plan never materialized. Asked about the plan, Biden quipped: '[DeSantis] should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.'
Gov. Charlie Baker made the decision to move the illegal immigrants just 48 hours after they landed in the billionaire's enclave, with some residents reportedly left reeling
Biden also defended the record number of migrants entering the United States under his presidency. U.S. authorities made more than 2 million immigration arrests along the southern border in the past 11 months, marking the first time that number has been reached.
The president said the heavy influx of immigrants were people escaping authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
'There are fewer and fewer immigrants coming from Central America and from Mexico. It's a totally different circumstance. What's on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, and the ability to send them back to those states is not rational. You could send them back and have them — we're working with Mexico and other countries to see if we can stop the flow. That's the difference,' he said.
Migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba accounted for more than one-third of those taken into custody along the border last month, according to Customs and Border Protection, which is a 175 percent increase over August of last year.