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‘Hunted’: Texas sheriff launches investigation into US migrant flights

The county sheriff says 48 migrants were lured “under false pretenses” to travel from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week.

A Texas county sheriff has opened a criminal investigation into flights that carried dozens of migrants from the US state to Martha’s Vineyard last week after observers raised questions about the legality of the move.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said at a news conference Monday night that 48 migrants were lured off the streets of San Antonio “under false pretenses,” put up in a hotel and bused to planes that would take them to the affluent resort island brought in Massachusetts.

The group, which also included children, “briefly stranded in Martha’s Vineyard … for nothing more than a photo op,” the sheriff said.

“What infuriates me the most about this case is that we have 48 people who are already going through hard times, they are legal here in our country,” Salazar, a Democrat, told reporters. “I think they were exploited.”

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is up for re-election in November and a possible 2024 presidential nominee, claimed recognition of the two flights from San Antonio.

DeSantis, as well as Republican governors from Texas and Arizona, have been sending migrants to Democrat-controlled cities, including two buses carrying migrants that were dropped near Vice President Kamala Harris’s Washington, DC residence last week.

The campaign comes amid Republican criticism of Democratic President Joe Biden’s handling of a record number of border crossings along the United States-Mexico border — and as the GOP seeks to use immigration as a rallying point ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Since April, Texas has bused around 8,000 migrants to the US capital, 2,200 to New York City and 300 to Chicago. Arizona has hauled more than 1,800 buses to Washington, DC since May, while the city of El Paso, Texas, has hauled more than 1,100 buses to New York since Aug. 23.

DeSantis said last week Florida paid to fly the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard because many migrants arriving in Florida are from Texas.

A DeSantis spokesman said immigrants were “more than willing to leave Bexar County after they were left.”

“Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary that, as we expected, offered them greater resources,” Taryn Fenske, DeSantis communications director, said in a statement emailed to news outlets Monday.

But migration rights advocates and Democrats have called the campaign inhumane.

The Biden administration said Republicans would use migrants as “political pawns.”

“These were children, these were mothers,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday. “And what did Governor DeSantis and Governor do? [Greg] dept [of Texas] do to them? They used them as political pawns, treating them like movable property in a cruel, premeditated political stunt.”

Vanessa Cardenas, deputy director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group, said in a statement Monday that “in the absence of real solutions, Ron DeSantis and other Republicans are trying to distract by cruelly scapegoating immigrants.”

“Yes, there are real concerns about border issues and a real need for solutions rather than gimmicks,” Cardenas said.

Julio Henriquez, an attorney who has met with several migrants in Massachusetts, told the Associated Press news agency that they “had no idea where they were going or where they were.”

He said a woman who reached out to the migrants at a city-run shelter in San Antonio put them up at a nearby hotel, bringing food and gift cards daily. She promised jobs and three months of housing in Washington, DC, New York, Philadelphia and Boston, Henriquez said.

The US has seen a rising number of migrants and asylum seekers pouring into its southern border with Mexico.

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