Retracing Perla’s Steps in Texas and the Border

Immigrant Rights

Retracing Perla’s Steps: Attorneys Representing Martha’s Vineyard Migrants Visit San Antonio and U.S. Border

Last week, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) sent a fact-finding delegation to Texas and Mexico to explore the conditions and dynamics near the U.S.-Mexico border. LCR undertook this mission shortly after filing a federal class action complaint on behalf of the Venezuelan migrants who were fraudulently induced to travel to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a political stunt carried out by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his conspirators. 

During the trip, LCR’s delegation visited with immigrant families, community leaders, legal advocacy groups, migrant shelters, and governmental organizations to hear about – and observe firsthand – the conditions endured by our clients and other recent arrivals to the United States. 

In San Antonio, Texas, LCR’s fact-finding team:

  • Visited the location where “Perla” and others first approached the Martha’s Vineyard migrants. In the area immediately surrounding the Migrant Resource Center, at 7000 San Pedro Avenue in San Antonio, LCR staff spoke to numerous families and individuals who expressed gratitude for the Center’s assistance, while still lacking shoes, clothing and other basic necessities, leaving them susceptible to nefarious influences from bad actors such as DeSantis and “Perla.” 
  • Observed firsthand the extreme vulnerability of recent migrants.  Most were on the brink of homelessness, wearing wristbands indicating the three-day limit on stays at the Migrant Resource Center.  As one Venezuelan woman told us: “I stayed at the Center for three days, they gave me food and undergarments, but … we are waiting out here for people to come and drop off clothes and shoes. We often see people stopping by and talking to migrants, we hope to be able to get what we need.” While on site, LCR’s team observed the arrival of Good Samaritans with gifts and donations, but many needs went unmet.
  • Visited the motel, La Quinta at 6511 West Military Drive in San Antonio, where migrants were sequestered pending their fraudulent relocation to Martha’s Vineyard. Located far from the Migrant Resource Center, near the outskirts of San Antonio, the motel is geographically isolated. 
  • Met with community leaders from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) to learn more about how our broken immigration system impacts families and children.

In El Paso, Texas, LCR’s delegation observed migrants being boarded on buses to New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC. LCR’s team also:

  • Visited migrant shelters and conferred with local authorities and community leaders assisting recently arrived migrants, including Sin Fronteras Coalition for the Homeless, the Migrant Welcome Centers run by the City of El Paso and County of El Paso
  • Conducted know-your-rights presentations and workshops for migrants in various welcome centers and shelters focusing on helping migrants understand the importance of remaining in compliance with federal immigration law.
  • Observed “Hugs Not Walls,” a powerful event organized by the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), which brings together families from the U.S. and Mexico who are separated due to our broken immigration system. The event takes place – literally – on the Rio Grande. 
  • Connected with community leaders from advocacy groups, including binational organizations such as BNHRHope Border Institute,and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, to learn more about the current dynamics at the border. 

We learned that while there has been better coordination between El Paso’s migrant resource centers and local authorities in recent months, there are still many challenges to overcome. 

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the delegation:

  • Observed firsthand how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recent Venezuelan policy is exacerbating the pain and suffering of those fleeing Venezuela. The policy was announced on October 12 and went into immediate effect while we visited the border. As vulnerable Venezuelans were returned to Mexico en masse, we could see the chaos. 
  • Many Venezuelans, including families with children, are now stranded in Mexico without access to food, shelter, medical services, or immigration protection. 
  • LCR also encountered migrants who claimed that the new Venezuelan policy was applied retroactively against those who were already on U.S. soil.  

Take-Aways and Quotes From LCR’s Fact-Finding Mission

LCR attorneys will continue to aggressively litigate LCR’s class action on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard migrants. LCR will also closely monitor the departure and arrival of buses and/or planes with migrants from the U.S. border.

“Defendants in our class action lawsuit preyed on the vulnerability of our clients — many of whom had suffered deep trauma in their home countries and on their journeys to the United States — and exploited this vulnerability to win trust through false promises,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. “We cannot allow these conditions to continue or allow anyone to use migrants as political pawns again.”

“LCR made valuable connections on our fact-finding mission to Texas and Mexico earlier this month,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director at Lawyer for Civil Rights. “We look forward to using what we learned to better advocate for our client communities, and particularly to vindicate the rights of our Martha’s Vineyard clients.” 

“Our country must do more to address and understand the complex conditions at the border,” said Mirian Albert, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “Our client’s experiences – including violence, hunger, and exploitation – were not uncommon amongst the migrants we were able to learn from in Texas.” 

“The acute desperation we observed among migrants in San Antonio and elsewhere in Texas is heartbreaking,” said Jacob Love, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “That anyone would exploit such desperation to advance a political agenda is unconscionable, and we will not rest until our clients, and those similarly situated, are made whole.”