The migrant says he had been living on the streets of San Antonio for almost a month when he met a woman named “Perla” who made an attractive offer.
He offered her clothes, food and money, she told CNN, and in return, she would go out and find other migrants to serve as passengers on flights to Massachusetts. He gave $10 McDonald’s gift cards to those migrants who agreed to board the flights, and told them they and the children would be treated well upon arrival.
“He told me that those who were going to Massachusetts, before I sent them, told me that they would receive them. They would be given shelter, a place to stay. They would help them with the language, and those who had children, to learn,” he said.
The recruiter spoke to CNN in his first television interview and was granted anonymity to protect his safety. He provided Perla’s business card, text messages and audio messages to CNN to verify its story and explain how the Sept. 14 migrant flights came together.
Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis organized the flights as part of his criticism of the federal government’s immigration and border security policies. He told Fox News that all the migrants signed consent forms and were given an information packet for services on Massachusetts Island.
Lawyers for the migrants have filed a complaint, saying they were misled into accepting flights and were told they would arrive to help with housing, work and the immigration process. In fact, no one on Martha’s Vineyard knew they were coming, local officials said. The sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, said his agency would open an investigation into the flights to see if any laws were broken.
For his part, the recruiter told CNN that he, too, felt betrayed by Perla and decided to tell his side of the story, saying he didn’t know about the scam.
“I never knew he was a governor or a politician,” the recruiter said. “So my only desire has always been to help people.”
The recruiter told CNN that he agreed to work with Perla to hire the asylum seekers, once providing them with food and shelter at a hotel in San Antonio where they would stay for a few days before boarding their flights.
“My only intention was to help people so they could get some stability,” he said. “He took them to a hotel. In the hotel, I realized that they were treated well”, including meals, linen and clothes provided.
He told her that his job was to hire people and help him.
“He said he would hire me and give me some of his cards. I distributed those cards, based on the information, that we were going to send them to a sanctuary,” he said. “In addition, we took them to a hotel until the flight left, where, as I explained to you, they were offered services.”
He also said he gave $10 McDonald’s gift cards to migrants who agreed to be on the flights.
Attempts to reach the woman named Perla were unsuccessful.
“They gave them to me so that people could give them when they wanted to be on the flight,” he explained. “Everything was always voluntary. No one was ever forced to do anything. When these people always said yes, I made sure they gave me the papers, their migration papers.’
The flights took off from San Antonio, stopped in Florida and finally went to Martha’s Vineyard on September 14th. When they arrived, he said he received a worried phone message from one of the migrants.
“We are adrift here. Those people didn’t even know we were coming,” said the migrant.
The recruiter said he texted Perla that the migrants were nervous because there was no one to meet them and they were sleeping on the side of the road. The person who texted him responded to CNN: “Tell them to call the numbers we gave them. The church. The state needs to take care of it.”
That night, she said he left her an audio message.
“I know they were scared at first, but now they are in a much better place and they will be taken care of there, as if you had no idea. I know they arrived in another city but it is within Massachusetts. Believe me they will have a much better life than here or anywhere else,” he said.
The migrants spent 44 hours on Martha’s Vineyard and stayed overnight at an Episcopal church before being transferred to Joint Base Cape Cod on September 16.
The recruiter said over the weekend that he is no longer in contact with Perla. However, he told CNN last week that he had been warned not to talk to reporters.
“If a reporter calls you,” he wrote, “don’t say anything.”