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Texas sheriff recommends criminal charges over DeSantis migrant flights

The case now goes to prosecutors in Bexar County, Texas.
 
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar is photographed on Tuesday, October 5, 2022, at the sheriff’s office while leading a team in a criminal investigation regarding the Martha’s Vineyard flights.

So often approached by labor hunters and a stealth network of transporters who promises transportation, jobs, and a better life in America's so-called "Sanctuary Cities," decisions to leave or stay become challenging and sometimes illusionary.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar is photographed on Tuesday, October 5, 2022, at the sheriff’s office while leading a team in a criminal investigation regarding the Martha’s Vineyard flights. So often approached by labor hunters and a stealth network of transporters who promises transportation, jobs, and a better life in America's so-called "Sanctuary Cities," decisions to leave or stay become challenging and sometimes illusionary. [ CARL JUSTE | cjuste@miamiherald.com ]
Published June 5, 2023|Updated June 8, 2023

A Texas sheriff’s department has recommended that the district attorney in Bexar County bring criminal charges after completing its investigation into the first iteration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ migrant relocation program. Those flights sent 49 asylum seekers, most of them Venezuelans, from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last August.

According to a statement provided to the Miami Herald, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar completed the criminal investigation into the on-the-ground operation that allegedly lured migrants onto the flights with false promises of jobs and opportunities on the other end.

“The case filed includes both felony and misdemeanor charges of Unlawful Restraint,” according to the statement. “At this time, the case is being reviewed by the DA’s office. Once an update is available, it will be provided to the public.”

Now it’s up to prosecutors in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, to decide whether to follow the sheriff’s recommendation. The district attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last fall, Salazar issued special certifications to all of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard declaring them to be official victims of a crime and paving the way for them to stay in the United States under a special visa for those helpful to law enforcement. Unlawful restraint is a misdemeanor unless the victim is younger than 17 — as was the case for five of the migrants.

Handing the case over to prosecutors is a critical juncture in a criminal probe that could snare some of DeSantis’ top aides. The migrant relocation program was overseen by DeSantis’ chief of staff, James Uthmeier, and public safety czar Larry Keefe.

The sheriff announced its charges in a statement to the Herald Monday, as news broke of several dozen migrants transported from El Paso to Sacramento, California, using a playbook similar to the one DeSantis used to send asylum seekers to Massachusetts last year.

Although DeSantis has not yet confirmed the state of Florida was behind the latest flights to California, the migrants arrived outside a Sacramento-area church carrying documents that indicated the travel was arranged by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Vertol Systems, the private contractor that also arranged the original flights to Martha’s Vineyard, the office of California’s attorney general confirmed.

“We are investigating the circumstances by which these individuals were brought to California. We are also evaluating potential criminal or civil action against those who transported or arranged for the transport of these vulnerable immigrants,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement issued by his office.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Rachel Self, attorney for the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard, called for DeSantis and his aides to be prosecuted in response to the news of the latest flight to Sacramento.

“The fact that no charges have yet been filed has clearly left the Florida authorities with the impression that they can keep acting this way with impunity,” said Self. “The people who perpetrated this need to know: no matter who you are, you aren’t above the law. A lesson needs to be taught.”

The sheriff in El Paso County has not opened an investigation into the recent flight to Sacramento, according to a statement provided to the Herald.

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