Migrant lawyers sent to Martha’s Vineyard to investigate the origins of leaflets they believe were distributed with “false intentions”


Attorneys for many of the nearly 50 migrants who accidentally landed on Martha’s Vineyard said Monday that the brochures given to clients were “extremely misleading” and were “enticing (her) clients to travel because (re)location assistance was available.”

The brochure lists services for refugees, including cash and housing assistance, clothing, transportation to job interviews, job training and help enrolling children in school, among other resources.

A Venezuelan migrant, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity for fear of negative repercussions in his immigration case, shared images from the pamphlet. Migrants were told the pamphlet contained information about the help they would receive in Massachusetts, but were not told about the differences between programs for refugees and asylum seekers.

Migrants are, in many cases, asylum seekers, not refugees. Refugees apply for protection abroad and are accepted through the refugee admissions program, while asylum seekers apply in the United States.

The asylum seekers, who local officials believe originated from Venezuela, arrived in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, having flown in from Texas under arrangements made by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, who is running for re-election this year, said he wanted to draw attention to the border crisis. Texas Governor Greg Abbott – another Republican with a bid for re-election – has brought thousands of immigrants to New York and Washington over the summer to highlight criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

DeSantis’ move was strongly criticized by the White House, Democratic officials and immigration lawyers, who say the migrants were misled to their final destination.

At a news conference Friday, DeSantis said they all turned him down and he knew where they were going. “Obviously they were going there,” he said, “Everything is voluntary.”

Brochures posted online by the legal team now representing many of the cases include a photo of what appears to be a “Massachusetts Welcome” road sign and a photo of a nondescript lighthouse. It also provides a brief summary of what resettlement agencies can do for refugees, in both English and Spanish.

The pamphlet also lists the phone number for the Massachusetts Office of Refugees and Immigrants, which he told CNN is not a document released by their office.

On the front is a picture of the state of Massachusetts and a list of community service agencies located on Martha’s Vineyard and at least Cape Cod.

The listing includes the number of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which ultimately received the migrants and helped them find initial housing at an island church.

Oren Sellstrom, director of litigation at Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, which represents many migrants, said his clients left Texas expecting everything in the brochure to be promoted after they landed.

Lawyers are investigating the origin of the pamphlets, when they were given to the migrants and why, according to the group.

Two of the migrants previously told CNN that they decided to make the trip while in San Antonio after two women and a man approached a migrant resource center on the street.

One of the migrants, Wilmer Villazana, said they were put up in a hotel five days before their flight and well taken care of. The women told him they were from Orlando and worked for private organizations that raise funds to help migrants, Villazana said.

“The type of program being discussed here is not something that would normally be available to any immigrant,” Sellstrom explained. “It is very misleading in the sense that this assistance was available in the sense that it used to entice our customers to travel when the type of program has very specific eligibility.”

Most migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard have been processed by federal authorities and will go through immigration proceedings, where an immigration judge will ultimately decide whether they can stay in the United States. Given their status as asylum seekers, not refugees, they may not be entitled to the benefits listed in the brochure.

Refugees are eligible for benefits available through the federal government, including cash assistance and medical assistance. Asylum seekers are generally not eligible for federally funded benefits, although they may receive some assistance once asylum is granted.

Migrants continue to receive humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod after the office of Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker voluntarily moved there, activating 100 more National Guardsmen in the effort.

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins told reporters Thursday that she would speak with members of the Justice Department about Governor DeSantis sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.