A man who introduced himself as Javier Salazar, Sheriff of Bexar County, Texas. He said he understands she has something to do with her immigration. He wanted to investigate whether the way they were recruited onto the plane made them victims of crime.
Self was intrigued but skeptical: After they spoke for the first time, she asked the sheriff to email her to confirm that he was who he said he was. He did so, copying senior members of his staff, including the chief of his organized crime unit.
In the weeks that followed, the sheriff of San Antonio and attorneys at Martha’s Vineyard formed a rare partnership as Salazar launched an investigation and collected evidence from immigrants. Their work had unexpected consequences on the long journey of immigrants. His group of 49, almost all of them from Venezuela, qualified for a type of visa available only to crime victims aiding law enforcement investigations.
DeSantis is making moves to fly immigrants to Massachusetts. She has caused confusion and is outraged by critics.
The individual who coordinated the flight, “Insult these people and show them off in public,” Salazar, 52, said. “And I think it’s ironic that everything they’ve done has allowed these people to stay in this country now.”
Salazar and Self made an unlikely pair. Salazar grew up in Universal City, a northern suburb of San Antonio, where he spent more than 20 years in the San Antonio Police Department, where he was involved in drugs and domestic affairs, eventually leading the Department of Public Conservation. In 2016, he was elected sheriff of Bexar County, population 2 million.
Self, 45, was born in New York and had a brief acting career before becoming a lawyer. She runs a private practice that handles criminal defense and immigration cases from offices in downtown Boston, but she lives on Chappaquiddick Island at the eastern end of the Vineyard.
Salazar, a Democrat, has spent months watching Texas Governor Greg Abbott (Republican) ferry immigrants by bus to cities like New York and Washington. Salazar said he thinks the policy is “unfavorable” but sees nothing illegal, as there was no indication that immigrants had been defrauded.
The immigrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard by DeSantis were different, he said.DeSantis Administration Used Texas Operatives to Recruit Groups with false promises of work and housing, according to lawyers representing immigrants. The company departs from San Antonio and Martha’s, a vacation destination with an annual population of 20,000. Massachusetts officials had no idea the group was coming.
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Salazar said the migrants were in countries where legal immigration was pending.If they are recruited on a plane with false promises, the deception can become a crime. He said migrants were “already taken advantage of” by smugglers and cartels on their journey, adding, “Now government officials are launching a multi-million dollar operation to hunt them down and lie to them.” Are you there?” he said. Salazar said. “No. Not in my county.”
September, DeSantis — A Possible 2024 Presidential Candidate — Appearing on Fox News, he said the immigrants had signed a consent form and that the decision to emigrate was “apparently voluntary.” A few months ago, DeSantis had foreseen his plans. He told reporters that if migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard or Delaware, where President Biden is from, the border “will be safe the next day.”
To find out exactly what happened to the immigrants, Salazar needed investigators to interview them. Then he called Self.
The day after the immigrants arrived, The lawyers stood outside the small episcopal church where they were staying and addressed reporters. Self offered solidarity to those in her community who were “plane crashed”. “We got you. We have your back,” she said.
Immigrants land on Martha’s Vineyard. Residents rushed to help.
At the time, Self was reeling from the loss of his older brother, who had died of COVID-19 complications the previous month. Unbeknownst to her, she was repeating some of the same phrases she had used to reassure him during her hospital stay.
Self, who appeared as a legal analyst for Fox News, had experience before the media glare. However, she never felt that her personal safety was threatened and that she was compelled to call the police. Her partner, Billy Gazaille, has accompanied her everywhere she goes and has come to carry her gun in her truck.
After Self and Salazar’s initial conversation, the sheriff followed up with a copied email to his senior staff.Herself and other attorneys working with immigrants, including Susan Church, Julio Henriquez, Emily Leon, and Adriana Lafaille, said they wanted adults to be interviewed via video by members of the Sheriff’s Organized Crime Unit. Arranged to. An interview was held After leaving Martha’s Vineyard, two days in three rooms at Joint Base Cape Cod where migrants were held.
Salazar is investigating whether those who carried out this plan in Texas broke laws that made it illegal to restrict anyone’s movement without their consent, whether by force or deception.
At the same time, the Treasury Department is investigating whether Florida fraudulently used federal funds to pay for airline tickets. A Boston organization, Civil Rights Attorneys, has also launched a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of immigrants. Defendants in the complaint include DeSantis, her three Florida officials, and her Perla Huerta, who has been identified as a key recruiter.
The DeSantis office referred the Washington Post to a statement made by spokeswoman Taryn Fenske when Salazar first opened the investigation. “Immigrants are willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned,” Fenske said in September. gave me an opportunity to find out.
Salazar said his investigation was not political. “This is not about a Democratic sheriff and a Republican governor,” he said. It’s about “if there were people in my county who physically broke the law, and what I would do about it.”
So far, no charges have been filed in the Bexar County investigation. An investigation is ongoing, Salazar said, and investigators have identified people they consider to be suspects. Attempts to contact Huerta were unsuccessful, and no attorney is on record to represent her in the federal lawsuit.
Immigrants’ cooperation with the Bexar County investigation made them candidates for a visa known as the “U visa,” which was enacted in 2000 to allow victims of crime to provide information to authorities about their illegal activities. To apply for a visa, the petitioner first needs a certificate from a law enforcement officer. Each year, 10,000 such visas are issued to primary applicants.
Salazar signed each certificate, something he had never done during his time as sheriff. He said the job usually falls to a boss below him on his org chart. However, the negative publicity that the incident generated led Salazar to decide to do it himself.
In mid-October, Self flew from Boston to San Antonio. U visa certificate to courier. She sat in a conference room with Salazar’s team, where they checked and rechecked each immigrant’s paperwork for accuracy. She brought them back to Massachusetts in her carry-on.
Before Self departed, Salazar presented her with a token of gratitude. These are small medallions known as “challenge coins” given out by military units and police.
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When Self returned to Massachusetts, she distributed U visa proof documents to a group of about a dozen lawyers representing immigrants for free in immigration procedures. Now they can choose to apply for a U visa, apply for asylum, or do both. In any case, it may take her up to a year or more to receive a work permit.
Self believes the U visa option is the right outcome for DeSantis’ plan. “It provided a way for these people who didn’t exist before by actually doing something really awful,” she said. “
A recent ruling by a federal appeals court in Massachusetts has set a precedent that makes it very difficult to deport a person whose U visa is being processed, Self said.
For Thanksgiving, four Venezuelans gathered with Self and her extended family at a long table for a traditional turkey dinner. Self said she spent years “agreeing” that she and her conservative father would disagree about her immigration, she said. But it was only one night after her arrival that her father’s attitude changed, she said. After listening to them, he immediately wanted to help them instead of seeing them as part of the problem.
She is proud of how her small community came together to welcome 49 immigrants aged 2 to 68. After two nights on the island she They were moved to the mainland where there are adequate resources to protect them.
Four months later, nearly everyone in the group is still in Massachusetts. Many are in smaller cities near Boston, with the rest remaining on Cape Cod. With the help of the residents, the five are back at Martha’s Vineyard.
Last month, Self and Gazaille visited several immigrants in Stoughton, a town south of Boston. They carried sacks of winter clothes donated by Chappaquiddick’s neighbors. A wool sweater, a fluffy jacket, and a winter hat. A 27-year-old man with dark curly hair tried on his hunting jacket and cream-colored Fisherman’s sweater. “Thank you, this is so kind,” he told Self.
Local organizations working with the homeless were helping find housing for immigrants. They contacted church groups and found families willing to take in some of the immigrants for a few months, while others were being held in shelters.
Even as immigrants began building new lives, enrolling children in school and experiencing their first snowfall, the aftermath of the flight continues, says Ivan Espinoza Madrigal, executive director of Civil Rights Attorneys. said. He said many were worried that he “could be punished in some way” for running in with DeSantis.
In December, migrants gathered for a holiday party hosted by the local Venezuelan community. There was music and traditional Christmas fare such as chicken salad and jalakas, a type of tamale.
Most of the time there is a wait. Some have tried to find work, but they cannot work legally. A group of shelters south of Boston are taking English classes at the local library. They receive grocery gift cards from their churches and rely on food pantries. Their case his manager is trying to get them a bus pass. Sometimes she offers a lift in her own car, where she presents her favorite reggaeton tunes.
The room on the second floor has a single bed, a TV, and a small refrigerator. He is from northern Venezuela and spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing immigration process. “My life is what you see,” he said, pointing to the room. He misses his wife and his two children.
He said it was “quite amazing” that their group got noticed. He said he took the flight in Texas because he had been promised help sorting out his immigration status, along with the shelter and his job. The experience of being deceived “makes it hard to trust people now,” he said.
Kevin G. Andrade contributed to this report.