Yesterday, Wednesday, September 15, about fifty migrants were flown from Florida [edit: probably from Texas] to Martha's Vineyard, "an island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts [...] that is known for being a popular, affluent summer colony". The New York Times reports:

[The Governor of Florida] Mr. DeSantis, a Republican with presidential ambitions, has repeatedly bashed the federal government for transporting migrants to Florida and has threatened to send them to liberal enclaves instead. He has frequently mentioned Mr. Biden’s home state of Delaware as a possible destination.

Mr. DeSantis is clearly unhappy about the migrants sent to Florida, presumably by the border police or federal immigration administration [edit: As phoog correctly remarked, the migrants "said they had started the day in San Antonio", according to the NYT article]. The transport to Massachusetts was apparently not coordinated or condoned by federal authorities or the destination state.

This raises a number of related questions:

  1. Is there no agreed-upon distribution key to the states in the U.S., according to their abilities and other criteria? I understand that Texas, the state into which migrants from Latin America enter when they arrive on land, feels that they carry an unfair burden when they are left alone sheltering and sustaining many thousand migrants.
  2. Are the migrants in Florida mostly entering there, arriving from the Caribbean? Or are some transported there by the federal government?
  3. Can asylum seekers waiting for their application to be processed (which seems to be the status of at least some people portrayed in the NYT piece) travel freely between states?
  • 1
    Asylum seekers can certainly travel freely. My question is whether they're expected to appear at a hearing in the place where they were removed from (it seems unclear whether it was Florida or Texas). If so, and the move was made without participation of federal authorities, will they be able to move their cases to Boston? (Boston isn't particularly close to Martha's Vineyard, but it's the closest immigration court.)
    – phoog
    Sep 15 at 15:07
  • @phoog They cannot travel freely in Germany, for example. Sep 15 at 17:57
  • 1
    "Are the migrants in Florida mostly entering there, arriving from the Caribbean? Or are some transported there by the federal government?": The NYT said that the people in Martha's Vineyard reporting having begun their day in San Antonio. The NYT neglected to mention that San Antonio is a city in Texas.
    – phoog
    Sep 15 at 19:09
  • 2
    It might be worth noting in the question that the migrants themselves appear to have been told they were going to Boston and not Martha's Vineyard as that could speak to the motivations involved. npr.org/2022/09/15/1123109768/migrants-sent-to-marthas-vineyard
    – Joe W
    Sep 15 at 19:31
  • 1
    @JoeW A much better article, thanks! Sep 15 at 19:41

4 Answers 4


It seems this is kind of complicated and it could actually be illegal. Ted Cruz did an interview where he admitted it could be illegal and you could get arrested for it. I am not fully sure on how that applies to state officials as they are not part of the immigration system. However since they are not part of the immigration system I would suspect that this could also apply to them making the actions taken to send them illegal.


Hannity asked the Canadian-born lawmaker whether he would likely face arrest if he had personally taken a truck, collected immigrants from the border, and driven them across the country.

“For you, a citizen, you could easily be arrested, although to be honest Joe Biden’s Justice Department wouldn’t arrest you,” replied Mr Cruz, who is a lawyer.

There is a link to a video of that in this article.


Hannity bizarrely gets Ted Cruz to admit that transporting migrants across state lines is illegal and would result in his arrest for human trafficking if he did it


Tallahassee-based immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci explains there's a "good faith argument" to be made that luring the migrants onto planes with the promise of jobs makes them crime victims. And that means they could automatically qualify for a visa, she said.

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

According to an analysis of federal immigration law by the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services: "Traffickers and abusers often use a lack of immigration status to exploit and control victims." They "may lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life."

Ricci said she believes that's exactly what DeSantis has done. If law enforcement agrees, it could make migrants eligible for a special kind of visa that protects victims of human trafficking. "It would be so ironic for these families to ultimately legalize and become citizens as a result of his actions."


It seems that Bexar County Sheriff's Office in Texas has opened an investigation into this situation. I am not sure what will all happen as a result of this but it seems that this is going to cause legal issues for someone.


The Bexar County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into the migrants that were lured from the Migrant Resource Center, located in Bexar County, TX, and flown to Florida, where they were ultimately left to fend for themselves in Martha's Vineyard, MA.

Additionally, we are working with private attorneys who are representing the victims, as well as advocacy organizations regarding this incident. We are also preparing to work with any federal agencies that have concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.

  • 1
    An interesting take. NPR, who interviewed three of the migrants, reports them saying that "a woman [...] approached them outside the shelter and lured them into boarding the plane, saying they would be flown to Boston where they could get expedited work papers". While Boston was a lie, no actual work promise was made; that federal agencies in Boston are less overwhelmed and may process papers quicker is actually conceivable. So probably not a robust case for trafficking. Sep 18 at 16:05
  • 1
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica The expedited work papers appears to be a lie as it appears to not be happening and the people making that promise had no authority to make it in the first place.
    – Joe W
    Sep 18 at 17:25

Technically speaking, migrants of any sort should be sent to the federal government (US Border Patrol or US Customs and Immigration) for processing. The individual states have no responsibility for immigration matters. There's nothing explicitly illegal about sending migrants to other locales, though (for obvious reasons) the bulk of federal government immigration infrastructure is in border states, and non-border areas aren't really equipped to handle large numbers of migrants.

Once a migrant has been processed by the federal government and granted temporary status they are free to move as they like within the US. Before they are processed they are not technically free to do so, but there are few restrictions that prevent it. DeSantis and his cohort could (very technically speaking) be charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration, but for the most part everyone recognizes this as an obnoxious political stunt. If DeSantis wants to spend Florida taxpayer money to send migrants to Martha's Vineyard, where they will be collected and processed by the federal government regardless, that's Florida's loss.

  • 2
    Is someone who has been released while awaiting hearings in immigration court "processed" or not yet "processed", as you use that term?
    – user102008
    Sep 15 at 16:35
  • My understanding was that the federal government had brought the migrants to Florida first; since at least one of them is from Venezuela and came via the land route, he must have entered into Texas: "Migrants said they had started the day in San Antonio, but it was the Florida governor’s office that took responsibility." But also: "There was apparently confusion about where the migrants came from" (Politico). Sep 15 at 17:52
  • 3
    "migrants of any sort should be sent to the federal government (US Border Patrol or US Customs and Immigration) for processing": states have no authority to enforce immigration law, which includes determining whether an individual is in any given immigration status. How would a state send anyone that it thinks is a migrant to the federal government for processing? "Before they are processed they are not technically free to do so": why not? What law forbids it? "DeSantis and his cohort could ... be charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration": how? Under what law?
    – phoog
    Sep 15 at 19:11
  • "Once a migrant has been processed by the federal government and granted temporary status they are free to move as they like within the US. Before they are processed they are not technically free to do so, but there are few restrictions that prevent it." That is not the case. Literally tens of thousands of immigrants are held in detention centres, where they are plenty restricted from moving about or doing anything else. Sep 16 at 19:05
  • @DJClayworth but not all unprocessed immigrants are in detention.
    – phoog
    Sep 18 at 7:03

To answer your questions 2 and 3,

  1. Most of the Florida Migrants (especially those in the news of late) are assylum seekers from Venezuela, which has been going through political and economic upheavals since the 2018 elections and Nicolas Maduro supposed win, which has been challenged by Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, France, the United States, and the Organization of American States (OAS or OEA in Latin America. The OAS full membership or observer status of the previous mentioned nations, sans Germany. Venezuela is a founding member but it's status is sort of in Limbo. Maduro chose to leave and was in the process when the election came into dispute. The recognized president has chose to cease the exit. As of now, the nation can't participate in any OAS business). While the quickest way by air or sea is to Florida or another Gulf Coast state, most Venezuelans entering the United States are likely traveling by land through Coloumbia and up through Central America to the U.S.-Mexican border. Once in the United States, they enter asylum processing.

  2. It depends on policy at the time. During the Trump years, effort was made to keep asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the border while the claim was under review (among other things, a significant issue is that those seeking asylum should seek it in the nearest safe country, not the country of their choice. Unless they had a direct flight into the U.S., there are plenty of nations which qualify as "safe" in along the trip that is taken.). Under the Biden Administration, this is up to the determination of the Immigration Judge handling your case, but if you are free to go about your business to any U.S. territory (save from some uninhabited islands which are restricted due to environmental concerns). One of the only rights of the people of the United States in the un-amended Constitution is that they were free to travel between the states. The judge may require restrictions (often if you are seeking assylum having committed a crime in your nation of origins) but if not, the policy is to let them go with a future court date that they must attend.

Critics of the policy claim that this practice allows immigrants to not attend the court date and thus remain in the U.S. with little recourse if asylum is denied. In many cases, Obama/Biden policy will also move immigrants to non-border states so they can ease the burden on those border states (The further line of thinking is these non-border states are disproportionately Republican strong holds state, with the idea that if the asylum seekers do get to stay, they will vote more for Democrats). However, once they are given the right to be free until the court date, they can go anywhere and ICE has little ability to track their movements once inside the U.S.

  • 1
    "ICE has little ability to track their movements once inside the U.S.": aliens in the US are required to report their address to USCIS within ten days of moving. Asylum seekers who don't do this are effectively abandoning their asylum application for a life as a fugitive. People who know their asylum claim is bogus might prefer this approach, but people who genuinely believe they should have asylum will stay in the process and attend their hearings.
    – phoog
    Sep 20 at 15:05
  • "While the quickest way by air or sea is to Florida or another Gulf Coast state, most Venezuelans entering the United States are likely traveling by land through Coloumbia and up through Central America to the U.S.-Mexican border." The same is true in Europe. The late Hans Rosling explained in 2015 why the refugees take the crazy dangerous, often illegal, and expensive routes instead of cheap, legal and safe flights: youtu.be/YO0IRsfrPQ4. I suppose similar regulations exist for flights to the U.S. Sep 20 at 16:06
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica 8 USC 1323.
    – phoog
    Sep 20 at 18:36

The action just seems like a cheap publicity stunt to gain political points. The aggro waa mostly caused, according to the article, at the entirely unplanned way, two planeloads of migrants were dumped in Marthas Vineyard with no coordination. And officials were scrambling to organise shelter amd ascertain their COVID-9 status.

Texas was the first state in the USA to ban asylum seekers under Trumps administration and his administration also created The Migrant Protection Protocol or also called "The Remain in Mexico" policy which required them to remain in Mexico whilst their case was heard in the US courts.

The Biden administration cancelled that particular policy but this was disputed until the Supreme Court ruling came down on Biden's side stating that the President had the authority to cancel that policy. Around 70,000 migrants had been sent to Mexico through the programme leading to refugee camps in Mexico that became targets for drug cartels and kidnappers. According to stats around 2% in this programme are granted asylum compared to 50% whose asylum applications are treated in the USA.

Human Rights Case, a New York based organisation, has recorded 1,544 cases of killings, rapes and kidnappings of migrants forced to remain in Mexico during one year the programme was in operation.

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott has also instated a controversial $2 billion lone star border security last year programme which he reported earlier this year had led to 22,000 migrants being turned back and 'apprehended' around 260,000 migrants.

People move, the Pilgrim Fathers moved. They were asylum seekers from religious persecution in England. And USA Southern American policy has often turned democracies into dictatorships. This is a problem of its own makimg. People do not want to leave the world they grew up in, when that world is liveable.

Texas is one of the largest and wealthiest states in the US. It's GSP is around $2 trillion dollars around 9% of the USA GDP - they can do better than this.

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