Attorneys for many of the nearly 50 migrants who landed unexpectedly in Martha’s Vineyard said Monday that brochures given to their clients were “highly misleading” and “used to entice (their) clients to travel under the guise that (resettlement) support was available to them.”
The brochure lists refugee services, including cash and housing assistance, clothing, transportation to job interviews, job training and assistance registering children for school, among other resources.
One Venezuelan migrant, who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity for fear of negative impacts on their immigration case, shared images of the brochure. They said migrants were told that the brochure had information on the assistance they would receive in Massachusetts, but they were not told about the differences in programs for refugees and asylum seekers.
Migrants are, in many cases, asylum seekers, not refugees. Refugees apply for protection overseas and are admitted through the refugee admissions program, whereas asylum seekers apply within the United States.
The asylum seekers, whom local officials believe originated from Venezuela, arrived in Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday, flying in from Texas under arrangements made by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, who is up for reelection this year, said he wanted to call attention to the border crisis. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott – another Republican with a reelection bid – has bused thousands of migrants to New York and Washington, DC, throughout the summer to also highlight his criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
DeSantis’ move was sharply denounced by the White House, Democratic officials and immigration lawyers who say the migrants were misled about their final destination.
In a Friday news conference, DeSantis said that everyone signed waivers and knew where they were going. “It’s obvious that’s where they were going,” he said, adding, “It’s all voluntary.”
The brochure, which has now been posted online by the legal group representing many of the cases, features a photo of what appears to be a road sign that reads “Massachusetts Welcomes You” and a photo of a nondescript lighthouse. It also provides a brief summary of what resettlement agencies may be able to do for refugees, in both English and Spanish text.
The brochure also lists the telephone number for the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, which told CNN this is not a document published by their office.
The front includes a picture of the state of Massachusetts and a list of community services agencies located on Martha’s Vineyard and at least one on Cape Cod.
The list includes the number for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services – which ultimately received the migrants and helped them find initial housing in a church on the island.
Oren Sellstrom, the litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, which is representing many of the migrants, said his clients left Texas expecting to have everything promoted in the brochure waiting for them once they landed.
The lawyers are investigating the origin of the brochures, when they were given to the migrants and why, according to the group.
DeSantis again defended sending the migrants to Massachusetts during an interview with Fox News Monday night and said, “The vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard. It had the numbers for different services on Martha’s Vineyard, and then it had numbers for the overall agencies in Massachusetts that handle things involving immigration and refugees.”
It wasn’t clear whether he was referencing the brochure in question.
Two of the migrants previously told CNN that while they were in San Antonio, they decided to go on the trip after two women and a man approached them on the streets near a migrant resource center.
One of the migrants, Wilmer Villazana, said he was put up in a hotel for five days before the flights and was well taken care of. The women told him they were from Orlando and worked for private organizations that raise funds to help migrants, Villazana said.
“The type of program that is being discussed here is not something that is typically going to be available for any immigrant,” Sellstrom explained. “It’s highly misleading in the sense that it was used to entice our clients to travel under the guise that this support was available when in fact, the type of program has highly specific eligibility.”
Most of the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard have been processed by federal authorities and will go through immigration proceedings where an immigration judge will ultimately decide whether they can remain in the United States. Given their status as asylum seekers, not refugees, they are likely not eligible for the benefits listed on the pamphlet.
Refugees are eligible for benefits available to them through the federal government, including cash assistance and medical assistance. Generally, asylum seekers are not eligible for federally funded benefits though once granted asylum, they may receive some assistance.
The migrants continue to receive humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod after Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s office voluntarily transported them there, activating more 100 National Guardsmen in the all-out effort.
US Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins told reporters Thursday she would be speaking with members of the Department of Justice about Gov. DeSantis sending the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.