Southern Poverty Law Center sues DeSantis over Martha's Vineyard flights
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Southern Poverty Law Center and non-profit immigration rights organizations are suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over his controversial transport of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
The plaintiffs, which include the Florida Immigrant Coalition, filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of three groups in a Miami federal court. The lawsuit against DeSantis and the state’s transportation secretary contends that Florida’s program — which led the DeSantis administration to the flying of nearly 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Massachusetts in September — is unconstitutional because the state is “usurping the federal government’s sole role in regulating and enforcing immigration law.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the program is discriminatory and constitutes “state-sponsored harassment of immigrants based on race, color, and national origin.”
“The Constitution is clear — the sole and exclusive power to regulate immigration policy is granted to the federal government, not the states,” said Paul Chavez, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project in a statement. “The scheme by Gov. DeSantis and the state of Florida to use taxpayer funds for the ‘relocation’ of ‘unauthorized alien’” is a blatant and unlawful attempt to harass immigrants at the state level.”
DeSantis previously said he arranged to relocate migrants in order to draw attention to the immigration policies of the Biden administration. He claimed that the migrants went voluntarily.
Taryn Fenske, communications director for DeSantis, said Friday afternoon in a statement that the program was ”lawfully executed under an appropriation of the Florida state legislature (that, incidentally, had bipartisan support.) This program does not violate federal law. We will continue to defend the state’s actions against these politically motivated, unsound lawsuits.”
But the flights sparked a massive backlash by Democrats and others. The Treasury Department’s watchdog is looking into whether the governor improperly used money connected to federal Covid-19 relief to pay for the flights while a sheriff in Texas is investigating the flights . The Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights also filed a federal class action lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of violating the migrants’ rights by coercing them to get on the flights to Massachusetts through “false promises and misrepresentations.”
While the administration has only flown one set of migrants so far, DeSantis vowed to spend the entire $12 million the Florida Legislature set aside for the relocation program. So far, Florida paid a Panhandle-based company a total of $1.56 million.
The lawsuit maintains that the groups — which also include Americans for Immigrant Justice and Hope CommUnity Center — are being harmed because they are diverting resources from their “core missions” to helping immigrants deal with the fallout of the DeSantis’ administration migrant relocation program.
The groups want a federal judge to declare the program unconstitutional and block the DeSantis administration from carrying out any additional flights.
The new lawsuit is one of four over the migrant flights. Besides the Lawyers for Civil Rights lawsuit, an open government organization, the Florida Center for Government Accountability, also sued the DeSantis administration for allegedly withholding public records associated with the flights.
Florida Democratic state senator, Jason Pizzo, also sued the administration in order to stop the governor from using more money on the flights. A judge in November dismissed Pizzo’s on technical grounds.