SAN ANTONIO — Bexar County sheriff Javier Salazar says investigators are trying to determine whether political operatives committed 'unlawful restraint' when they lured migrants at San Antonio's Migrant Resource Center onto a plane bound for Martha's Vineyard.
Unlawful restraint is typically a misdemeanor offense, though it can be a felony under certain circumstances.
A Thursday afternoon statement from Sheriff Javier Salazar stated the agency could pursue that charge because of claims that the migrants were transported out of the county under false pretenses.
Foreign victims of unlawful restraint qualify for visas, as long as they cooperate with investigators.
Immigration attorney Teresa Coles-Davila says witnesses to unlawful restraint crimes also qualify for special visas, meaning some migrants who were at the resource center but did not go to Martha's Vineyard could secure extended stays in the United States.
Coles-Davila noted, though, that most migrants will likely spend years in the United States without a visa, waiting for backlogged asylum courts to process their cases.
Investigators say they have identified suspects, Salazar said, though the sheriff's office will not identify them publicly. He added that suspects were in Bexar County during the incident, meaning the investigation will not climb a political ladder to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis says he paid for the flights and hired contractors to identify migrants willing to relocate.
"That was entirely appropriate because they want to make it clear this is not politically motivated," Coles-Davila said. "They are investigating crimes within their jurisdiction."
Venezuelan migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard in September have sued DeSantis and his transportation secretary for engaging in a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to move them. The suit alleges migrants were falsely told that they would be taken to Boston or Washington.
A number of migrants reportedly identified a San Antonio native named Perla Huerta as the woman who recruited them from near the migrant resource center on San Pedro Boulevard.
The sheriff's full statement is below:
“Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint (Tx Penal Code 20.02). We have suspects identified, however at this point in the investigation, we are not at liberty to release those names publicly or confirm any identities.
"Only those who were physically in our jurisdiction at the time of the offense are considered suspects. We have submitted documentation through the federal system to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation.
"We are actively working with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and the attorneys representing the migrants. The investigation remains ongoing and we will release any updates as available.”