After the shocking arrival of 50 Venezuelan men, women and children on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts on Wednesday, Democrats across the country urged the Biden administration to investigate the coup as possible human trafficking – a comparison that even the White House adopted.
“This maneuver raises serious legal questions and will have incalculable repercussions on the individuals involved in the governor’s political maneuver,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who accused Governor Ron DeSantis of “political human trafficking sending dozens of asylum seekers to an island five miles from the mainland. “An investigation is needed.”
“Sending vulnerable migrants across the country is not a campaign tactic. It is human trafficking”, said Deputy Ilhan Omar (D-MI). “It is the abuse of dozens of human beings and a celebration of that abuse for political gain.”
The Biden administration, which has a near-general policy of not discussing possible Justice Department investigations, initially addressed the question of whether President Joe Biden views transportation as legal, focusing on the use of undocumented immigrants as “pedestrians.” in a game of political chess.
But in scathing remarks from the White House briefing room, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday that asylum seekers were “pulled” onto planes by “false promises” and compared DeSantis’ tactics those of human traffickers.
“They were children, they were mothers – they were fleeing communism,” said Jean-Pierre, emphasizing that “these vulnerable migrants [were] supposedly deceived about where they were going” and “deceived about what they would receive when they arrived”.
“These are the kinds of tactics we see from smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala,” Jean-Pierre said.
But while this particular charge seems unlikely to hit a legal threshold, experts say, DeSantis and Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) could still be in legal jeopardy. For example, claims by asylum seekers that they were taken from Texas and Florida under false pretenses and without knowledge of their final destination could constitute a violation of state and federal law – even kidnapping.
“If you take someone and move them from Point A to Point B against their will, that’s kidnapping,” said Marc Evans, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and a top human trafficking authority.
Many of the migrants told reporters and local officials that they were promised by a person who identified himself as “Perla” that they would receive expedited work visas and expedited asylum processing if they boarded flights or buses to northern sanctuary cities. On Martha’s Vineyard, a summer colony popular with the East Coast’s wealthy and a favorite haunt of President Barack Obama, three immigrants told NPR who had been told they were flying to Boston—more than three hours and a ferry ride.
Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, an expert on human trafficking, said that unless migrants have been transported for the purpose of exploitation – such as illegal work practices – the letter in the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act does not apply.
“You would need to examine whether there was force, fraud, coercion, deception or threat used for the purpose of exploitation,” Mehlman-Orozco said, noting that even if they were transported under false pretenses, “to be considered as a potential trafficking incident, there would also need to be exploitation”.
Speaking at a gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday night, Biden echoed Jean-Pierre, accusing Republicans of “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.”
“We have a process for managing migrants at the border,” Biden said. “Republican authorities must not interfere in this process by making these political maneuvers.”
But the government’s aversion to raising questions about the legality of DeSantis’ migrant transports hasn’t stopped legal officials, including the Massachusetts federal police chief, from calling for an investigation.
“We are investigating this case and will speak with members of the Department of Justice. Massachusetts is not the only place where this has happened,” Rachael Rollins, a Massachusetts attorney, told reporters Thursday. “We have a number of other sister communities, whether it’s DC, New York, California, where we’ve seen things like that, and we’re hoping to get some input from the Department of Justice on what our next steps might be.”
Other high-profile Democrats — including several with thinly disguised White House ambitions — have directly accused the Florida governor of civil rights violations, fraud and kidnapping.
“I strongly urge the US Department of Justice to open an investigation into possible criminal or civil violations of federal law based on this alleged fraudulent scheme,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement Thursday. Newsom — who has a long-running dispute with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, another big advocate of transporting migrants to liberal cities — suggested that promises of expedited visas and processing of asylum claims “would support allegations of kidnapping,” and suggested that DeSantis could be prosecuted under federal racketeering laws.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, another Democrat whose state has been receiving transport of migrants from Texas and Florida, told reporters on Thursday that “legal officials are investigating whether or not there is criminal responsibility” for the practice.
Meanwhile, DeSantis defended the legality of the practice, citing the creation of a $12 million program by the Florida state legislature in March, using money earned from interest on COVID-19 pandemic relief funds to pay private contractors “for facilitate the transportation of unauthorized aliens from this state.”
A DeSantis spokesperson said in a statement that the program’s funding is “consistent with federal law.”
Source : www.thedailybeast.com