Migrants who were flown by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to Massachusetts are victims of a crime, a sheriff has decreed. The finding could help the nearly 50 people sent from Texas to Martha's Vineyard receive a special visa allowing them to stay in the US, WGBH reports. "Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said in a statement. Applicants for a U-visa need certification from law enforcement officials that they've been the victim of a crime or a witness to one, and that they're cooperating with any investigation.
The sheriff said his office has sent federal officials documentation to keep the migrants available. Although the sheriff has launched an investigation of DeSantis' action, Salazar suggested he's not pursuing charges against the Republican, per the Texas Tribune. "Only those who were physically in our jurisdiction at the time of the offense are considered suspects," his statement said. Many of the migrants said they were misled about the trip, promised nonexistent jobs and more at the other end of the flight. Most of them had come from Venezuela and were seeking asylum in the US. The special visas are good for four years, per the federal government, but can be extended.
Certification often takes more than a year, per WGBH, but immigration lawyers have been working with the sheriff's office to gather the migrants' accounts, as well as images and videos of their flight. Rachel Self, a Boston lawyer who went to San Antonio to help with the process, said the certification will help the migrants "process and heal from the incredibly traumatic experiences they have suffered as a result of the cruel, heartless acts committed against them." The ACLU of Massachusetts, which also is involved in helping with the visas, issued a statement praising the sheriff's "recognition of the gravity of these events." (Read more migrants stories.)