Posted on October 15, 2022

Transported Migrants May Be on a Path to Citizenship Because of DeSantis Flights

Jesus A. Rodriguez, Politico, October 13, 2022

When nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants were left stranded in Martha’s Vineyard last month after Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis flew them to the island from Texas, they had no employment, housing or clear pathway to citizenship.

But this week, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the San Antonio area and previously opened an investigation into the flights, agreed to certify that the migrants had sufficiently cooperated with its investigation and are now eligible to apply for “U” visas, a kind of immigration status for victims of certain crimes that occur on U.S. soil.

The visas require that a law enforcement officer sign the application before it can be sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Rachel Self, a Martha’s Vineyard-based attorney who has been coordinating the migrants’ immigration cases, said Wednesday that she flew to San Antonio to obtain the required signatures from the sheriff’s office.

“I now hold in my hand certifications for every one of Perla’s victims,” Self wrote in a statement, referring to Perla Huerta, the woman believed to be responsible for recruiting migrants in San Antonio on behalf of DeSantis.

Since the migrants arrived in Martha’s Vineyard, a destination known as a favorite vacation spot for wealthy liberals, lawyers and have been trying to coordinate housing, medical attention, and other assistance. They have also been providing pro bono legal aid to help the Venezuelans make the case they should be allowed to stay in the United States. {snip}


Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, a Democrat, announced Sept. 20 that his office was opening a criminal investigation into the flights orchestrated by DeSantis, which he said had occurred under “false pretenses” and that the migrants had been “preyed upon.”

The qualifying criminal acts for the U visa, which was created by Congress in 2000, include kidnapping, false imprisonment and fraud in foreign labor contracting. {snip}


The U visa process, however, won’t be easy or quick, either. According to Department of Homeland Security data, more than 285,000 U visa petitions are pending as of fiscal year 2021, and Congress has capped the visas at 10,000 per year. Once the visas are approved, the migrants must wait three years to apply for a green card and five more years for citizenship.

But once the Venezuelans submit their applications, they will likely be allowed to work and protected from deportation. Last year, the federal appellate court that covers Massachusetts ruled that a Honduran man could not be removed from the country while his U visa application was pending.