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UPDATE: DeSantis defends phony brochure; sheriff launches criminal investigation
On Monday morning, Popular Information broke the news that migrants from Venezuela were provided with false information to convince them to board flights chartered by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). A brochure distributed to migrants says that they will be eligible for numerous benefits in Massachusetts, including "8 months cash assistance," "assistance with housing," "food," "clothing," "job placement," "registering children for school," and many other benefits.
None of this is true. The benefits described in the brochure are resettlement benefits available to refugees who have been referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and authorized to live in the United States. These benefits are not available in Massachusetts to the migrants who boarded the flights, who are still in the process of seeking asylum.
The document is evidence that suggests that the flights were not just a callous political stunt but potentially a crime. Popular Information's report quickly went viral on Twitter:
DeSantis' office responded by quickly scheduling a press briefing with sympathetic media outlets, including Florida's Voice and Townhall. In the briefing, Taryn Fenske, communications director for the governor, confirmed Popular Information's reporting. Specifically, she said that the brochures were provided to migrants by DeSantis' operation to help convince them to travel to Massachusetts.
Fenske also reportedly claimed that "the brochure was legitimate and that the information provided was accurate." That is false. It was a fake brochure that doesn't even feature the real Massachusetts flag. And the benefits listed are not available to the migrants who were given the brochures.
"DeSantis clearly does not know the legal difference between refugees (who are eligible for resettlement benefits) and asylum applicants (who are not)," Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney, told Popular Information, "It's legally no different than promising someone who you know to have had no military service that they will be eligible for veterans benefits." Cameron said the brochures "are either evidence of criminal intent or criminal stupidity."
Fenske reportedly stressed during the call that "the brochure does not say migrants immediately have access to the benefits." But that is also misinformation. The migrants targeted by DeSantis will never be eligible to receive many of the benefits listed in the brochure. If the migrants are granted asylum, a process that can take several years, they could become eligible for limited financial and medical benefits. But migrants that are granted asylum could also receive those benefits in Florida or Texas.
Nevertheless, the phony list of benefits was used to induce these migrants to immediately fly to Massachusetts.
After the press call, the DeSantis campaign attacked Popular Information on Twitter:
Late Monday, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, which represents the area in Texas where the migrants were recruited for the flight to Massachusetts, announced he had launched a criminal investigation into DeSantis' scheme. Salazar said that migrants "were 'hoodwinked' with promises of jobs and other benefits to the flight to Massachusetts." According to Salazar, there is "a high probability that laws were broken."