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Migrants Allowed to Sue Company That Flew Them to Marthas Vineyard


In 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lauded a plan by his administration to transport foreign nationals from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, MA. The purported goal was to draw attention to the issues on America’s southern border. However, some of the migrants who were drawn into the scheme have since filed suit against Governor DeSantis, Florida, and Vetrol, the air transport company that dropped them off in Massachusetts.  

The lawsuit alleges that in the summer of 2021, Gov. DeSantis sent members of his team to Texas to assess how he might get involved in immigration issues. Florida ended up spending a portion of its state budget to solicit bids to hire a company “to implement and manage a program to relocate out of the state of Florida foreign nationals who are not lawfully present in the United States under the supervision of the Department Project Manager” for Florida’s Department of Transportation. Vetrol won the bid around September 2022 and Florida paid Vetrol about $615,000 from its own general revenue. The scheme was so successful that Florida ended up paying $12million total for this program.  

Vetrol’s Alleged Deception 

Vetrol sent personal to San Antonio, Texas to locate immigrants to send to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. According to the Venezuela migrants who filed suit, Vetrol’s representatives told them that they were hired by “churches and foundations” and “wealthy anonymous benefactors.” Vetrol representatives told them that they would be transported to the Northeast and provided with housing, work, and educational resources. They required to stay in a hotel for several days while waiting for the flight and were not allowed to see anyone else and were completely dependent on Vetrol employees for food and the lodging.  

The migrants were told to sign a consent form in exchange for a $10 McDonalds gift card. The form did not identify the “benefactor” as the state of Florida. While it mentioned that Massachusetts was the ultimate destination, it did not specifically state Martha’s Vineyard. The plaintiffs believed that they were being taken to Boston. Midway through the flight, they were finally told they were going to Martha’s Vineyard. The flight stopped in Florida first, but the plaintiffs told they were not to leave the plane.  

When they finally got off the plane, a videographer allegedly hired by Gov. DeSantis took a video of them and sent it to Fox News. Nobody in Martha’s Vineyard aside from the pilot and videographer knew they were there.  

The Federal Court’s Ruling  

U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs ruled that migrants flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022 can proceed with their lawsuit against Vetrol despite the latter’s request to dismiss the case. Although Judge Burroughs dismissed a few claims, the majority of the claims for violation of due process, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and various claims of conspiracy were permitted to proceed.  

Is It Legal for a Foreign National to File a Lawsuit in the United States?  

Opponents of illegal immigration may take issue with Venezuela aliens filing a lawsuit in the United States. However, the First Amendment states that the government may not infringe on the right to “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is generally interpreted as a right to file a lawsuit. Since the First Amendment does not limit this right to American citizens, any persons may file a lawsuit.  

Indeed, it is essential that this right is not limited to American citizens because if it were, the government could infringe upon this right by declaring that someone is not a citizen, even if they are. At that point, the only way to contest such a wrongful claim would be to file a lawsuit, which someone could only do if they have a right to file a lawsuit, regardless of their national origin.  

The Claim for Fraud Can Be Amended 

The claim for fraud was one of the claims that were dismissed, though without prejudice meaning that the plaintiffs can always re-file it provided they meet the requirements. However, it appears the only reason the fraud claim was dismissed was that the plaintiffs hadn’t properly explained how they were injured. The details regarding Vetrol’s communication with the plaintiffs are rather detailed and brazen.  

For instance, the “consent” form was clearly not informed consent. Vetrol mislead their passengers into believing that a third-party was assisting them when in reality the flight was sponsored by the state of Florida. Their “payment” for signing it was a $10 McDonalds gift card, which is nowhere near just compensation. Moreover, they were told they would be provided with support but instead were filmed upon arrival to embarrass them before the entire world.  

While Vetrol may have celebrated the dismissal of some of these claims, the court left the door open for even these additional claims to be revived. A skilled attorney can fix the defects with the lawsuit and proceed with the rest of the case.  

Do I Need an Immigration Attorney? 

If you need help with any immigration matters, you should contact an immigration attorney. Immigration laws are complex and have many deadlines that must be met. A skilled attorney can provide guidance on your case and represent your best interests in court. 


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