“Our focus remains on providing a compassionate layover for migrants transiting through San Antonio,” said Amanda Reyna, assistant to the director of the city’s Department of Human Services.
John Garland, a pastor with the San Antonio Mennonite Church in San Antonio that provides services for migrants, said he’s livid at politicians like DeSantis and Abbott for attempting to capitalize on migrants to make a political point.
“It’s absolutely absurd, but we have to release the rage to fill it back up [with compassion] to respond to these deeply traumatized families,” he said before pointing out a pregnant asylum seeker in a nearby room with a toddler in tow. The woman was kidnapped by traffickers before escaping and seeking refuge across the U.S. border, he said.
“To take advantage of someone who has experienced such trauma for a micro moment of power, to maybe move the polls a bit, it’s like there’s something broken inside the human part of [them], he added.
San Antonio officials wouldn’t comment when asked about DeSantis’ migrant flights or Abbott’s busing.
With such a huge number of migrants making their way through San Antonio, it’s no surprise that DeSantis’ officials targeted migrants in the city. Recently released documents from DeSantis’ administration, as well as an investigation by the local San Antonio sheriff and a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a handful of migrants, show a concerted and detailed effort to lure mostly-Venezuelan migrants in San Antonio with promises of a free flight, McDonalds gift cards, housing and jobs in Boston or D.C.
The DeSantis administration sequestered the migrants into hotel rooms, according to a complaint filed by the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, until there were enough to fill two planes. During this time, some of DeSantis’ top officials were coordinating the transports in Texas and Florida. DeSantis’ public safety czar, Larry Keefe, texted the governor’s chief of staff James Uthmeier confirming that he was in Texas. Uthmeier responded approvingly, saying, “you have my full support. Call anytime.”
On the day of the flight to Martha’s Vineyard, the group of migrants were lined up on the tarmac of an unidentified airport in Texas. At least two children were with them, according to photos provided by the state. From there, a private contractor, Vertol Systems Company, flew the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
“Wheels up,” Keefe texted Uthmeier.
One of the key people involved in recruiting the migrants was a woman named by migrants as “Perla” and later identified by The New York Times as Perla Huerta, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. She was directly responsible for finding migrants and enticing them to board flights, according to the Miami Herald.
As journalists and others were seeking information about Huerta, the Hispanic civil rights organization League of United Latin American Citizens offered a $5,000 reward for information identifying her and leading to her arrest and prosecution and later increased it to $10,000. She still remains largely out of the public eye.