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Will DeSantis Be Convicted For Kidnapping Over Martha’s Vineyard Flights? Experts Say It’s Unlikely

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Trevor Schakohl Legal Reporter
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  • Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis transported two planes of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last week.
  • The likelihood of convicting DeSantis of human trafficking or kidnapping in this case seems low, experts indicated.
  • “If a state governor didn’t transport these illegal aliens to another location, an NGO funded by the Biden Administration would, just as the administration has been doing for the past 1.5 years,” Heritage Foundation Border Security and Immigration Center Director Lora Ries said. “Is that illegal? I have yet to see a legal argument that would likely succeed to stop the governor.”

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is unlikely to be convicted of human trafficking or kidnapping for transporting migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, according to experts, despite many media figures and politicians urging investigations into his conduct.

DeSantis shipped two planeloads of roughly 50 illegal migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last week in an effort to bring attention to the ongoing migrant crisis at the border. Several left-wing figures have suggested there is a possibility that DeSantis be charged with kidnapping for the stunt, citing allegations that migrants were deceived into boarding the plane, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting the DOJ probe whether the migrants’ alleged fraudulent inducement into transport would support kidnapping charges, but experts cast doubt on the viability of kidnapping charges.

Migrants DeSantis sent to Martha’s Vineyard by plane entered a class action lawsuit against him and other Florida officials Tuesday, purporting that some were misled with promises of cash assistance, housing assistance and employment services, according to Axios, while Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced a criminal investigation into the flights.

What @GovRonDeSantis and @GregAbbott_TX are doing isn’t clever, it’s cruel.

However, experts found it unlikely that human trafficking charges against DeSantis would stick.

Heritage Foundation Border Security and Immigration Center Director Lora Ries told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the Florida budget’s Section 185 appropriates funds for transporting unauthorized aliens “using interest from unspent American Rescue Plan funds that were allocated to Florida.” (RELATED: Plane DeSantis Used To Transport Illegal Migrants Heading Near Biden’s Home)

“If a state governor didn’t transport these illegal aliens to another location, an NGO funded by the Biden administration would, just as the administration has been doing for the past 1.5 years,” Ries argued. “Is that illegal? I have yet to see a legal argument that would likely succeed to stop the governor.”

Pace Law School Professor Thomas Michael McDonnell indicated DeSantis can only be criminally convicted of kidnapping the migrants sent to Massachusetts under U.S. Code 1324 if they were forced to travel. He noted that transporting illegal aliens within the U.S. “in furtherance of such violation of law” was a felony in line with 8 U.S. Code 1324.

“As I understand the facts, these noncitizens were released from federal custody to await their asylum hearings. They had a limited right to stay here,” McDonnell told the DCNF. “Consequently, DeSantis’s transporting them was not apparently ‘in furtherance of such violation.'”

“If DeSantis and other state officials intentionally misled the noncitizens, there might be a civil suit for fraud, but one would have to show some damages,” he continued. “One could imagine someone needing medical assistance during the trip.”

The migrants’ lawsuit accuses DeSantis and the other defendants of unreasonably seizing them without just cause through fraudulent inducement. It claims the individual defendants conspired to withhold migrants’ civil rights.

Cornell University Immigration Law Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr said he thought claiming Republican governors were guilty of human trafficking for sending migrants out of state was “exaggeration,” adding that “illegal transportation prosecutions and convictions are very rare.”

“They are mainly aimed at smuggling operations. Thus, I think it is unlikely that Republican governors would be prosecuted under this law,” Yale-Loehr told the DCNF, citing the Immigration and Nationality Act. “The bottom line: It is a stretch to claim that Republican governors are violating human trafficking laws or laws that bar illegal transportation of migrants.”

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbot has also been transporting others to cities like Chicago and New York for months. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Sunday he was looking into options for legal challenges about Texas.

California-based immigration attorney Ally Bolour briefly discussed DeSantis’ migrant transportation with the DCNF, saying, “In general – there are kidnapping and trafficking charges that may apply – in which case – U visas (victims of crimes) or T visas (victims of trafficking) may come into play.”

The DCNF asked Bolour whether kidnapping or trafficking charges were possible if the migrants were not forced into transportation or told lies to persuade them to travel.

“We would have to look at the facts and how the transport happened,” he replied.

However, other legal experts said it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for charges to be brought against DeSantis.

Florida immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci told WFSU Public Media there was a “good faith argument” that enticing the migrants onto planes with job promises is criminal and could automatically qualify them for a visa. Some migrants taken to Martha’s Vineyard claimed to have been told they were going to Boston and could receive expedited work papers there, according to NPR.

“An enticement like that, regardless of whether you sign a waiver, is fraud and that is part of the definition of human trafficking,” Ricci said, WFSU Public Media reported. “I think that everybody on those planes has a case to legalize as a direct result of being transported by the governor.”

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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