By Chaitram Aklu
According to the website www.mass.gov “Deceit is when one causes someone to accept as true or valid what is in fact untrue or invalid.”
In the early 1800s a hardworking black man named Solomon Northup worked at a hotel while also holding other jobs in Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York. He was a married man with three children and was respected as a brilliant and accomplished violinist. He played for large audiences throughout the region. A committed family man, he was always looking for side jobs to supplement his income.
In March of 1834, Northup was looking for temporary jobs when he met two white men, Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton who told him they worked for a circus and could get him a job in New York City. Lured by their false representations and deceit, he agreed to go to New York City to work as a violinist. Excited, he left his home without informing his wife or anyone else; carrying only his papers certifying that he was a free man and not a slave. In New York City the men again lured him to travel with them farther to Washington D.C. for more work and more pay. On arrival in Washington D.C. where slavery was legal (Northup most likely did not give consideration to this fact), Brown and Hamilton, abducted him, drugged him, beat him, renamed him Platt, held him captive, and sold him to a Washington D.C. slave trader named James H. Birch who in turn sold him to a plantation owner in Louisiana. To his family, friends and others in his neighborhood, Northup simply disappeared.
He remained enslaved for 12 years before he was eventually set free on January 3, 1853 but only after gaining the sympathy of a Good Samaritan – a Canadian plantation worker named Samuel Bass who after hearing Northup’s predicament went to Saratoga Springs to verify his story and contacted his family and friends who went to work to free him.
Fast forward to Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022. Two planes, paid for by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who has presidential ambitions, flew from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, MA and dropped off a total of 48 Venezuelan migrants. One flight made stops in Florida and South Carolina, while the other stopped in Florida and North Carolina. The migrants were reportedly told that they were going to Boston MA and given a brochure about housing, cash assistance and jobs for refugees. Massachusetts officials were taken by surprise and were angered by the unannounced flights.
TIME Magazine reported that the Governor sent allies to Texas to recruit migrants. Flyers given to the migrants by the agents promised “8 months cash assistance, help in finding housing and schools for kids, transportation to job interviews, job training, and jobs themselves, and many other benefits. None, of course, were in the offing for these individuals early in the process of seeking asylum.”
A CNN report on Tuesday September 20, 2022 stated: “Attorneys for many of the 48 migrants said that brochures “which listed refugee services, including cash and housing assistance, clothing, transportation to job interviews, job training and assistance registering children for school, among other resources,” given to their clients were “highly misleading” and “used to entice (their) clients to travel under the guise that (resettlement) support was available to them.”
In January the US Border Patrol announced that over 2 million migrants crossed the US-Mexican border in 2021, with the highest numbers coming from Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, and some African countries.
The CNN report also said lawyers for the migrants pointed out that the brochure was misleading because, “Migrants are, in many cases, asylum seekers, not refugees. Refugees apply for protection overseas and are admitted through the refugee admissions program, whereas asylum seekers apply within the United States.”
According to yahoonews.com, Oren Sellstrom of Lawyers for Civil Rights said not much is known about the officials involved in the Florida relocation scheme. He said an unknown woman, whom some migrants identified only as ‘Perla’, distributed fast-food vouchers and even offered to buy a man a new pair of shoes because his shoes were worn out during the long trek through Central America and Mexico. She was among other people in San Antonio who were paid to entice migrants to make the trip.
The New York Times later identified ‘Perla’ as Perla Huerta, a U.S Army counterintelligence combat medic who was discharged in August this year.
“They gained their (the migrants) trust, (and) then made false representations about what would be available to them, in order to induce them to do this (make the trip). They preyed on our clients’ vulnerability in order to gain their trust,” yahoonews.com quoted Sellstrom as saying. “So yes, this brochure is certainly additional evidence of that kind of misrepresentation and fraud, but it’s very consistent with what our clients have told us they were being orally represented, as well. —- This is additional evidence that shows in writing that those false representations were made in order to induce our clients to travel.” He said.
The article also stated that Lawyers for Civil Rights of which Sellstrom is litigation director, is considering filing a civil lawsuit against the Florida Governor.
Glenn Kirchner, a former veteran federal prosecutor and media consultant told Stephanie Miller of Political Voices Network on September 25, 2022, and posted on YouTube: “He (Florida governor Ron DeSantis) kidnapped them by lying to them, he transported them to a place – Martha’s Vineyard where he dropped them off with nothing – he revoked and reneged on every promise he made to them to move from point A to point B – I investigated cases like this – that is kidnapping under federal law. There is kidnapping by inveiglement – you cause somebody to move from point A to point B by lie, deception, deceit by false promises. It directly violates federal law of kidnapping another (person) by inveiglement and transporting them across state lines.”
Another attorney Joseph Lackey a Miami lawyer quoted by Yahoo News.com also said he believes “an argument could be” made that the migrants could qualify for a special type of U visa given to victims of crimes because they are alleged to have been hoodwinked into traveling to Massachusetts by false promises of jobs and housing, which could be a form of human trafficking.”
Solomon Northup did not get justice when Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton used clever talk, trickery, and flattery to lure him to travel to Washington D.C. where they abducted and sold him into slavery.
He wrote his memoir: Twelve Years a Slave in 1853. He made several attempts to sue Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton for abducting him in Washington D.C. – a jurisdiction where blacks had no legal rights in court. Slavery was not abolished until 1865. He abandoned his fight in 1857 and for while after gave speeches and lectures calling for abolition. He was not heard from after that and died sometime between 1857 and 1863. More than 160 years after its publication, his memoir was made into the movie: 12 Years a Slave in 2013. It won three Oscar Awards.
The 48 migrants and possibly many others who legal minds like Kirchner, Sellstrom, Lackey and others opined the migrants were lured by false representations or other deceit, and taken to Martha’s Vineyard may have a different outcome. There is cause for hope. Lackey told yahoonews.com “DeSantis’ little gambit could actually come back to haunt him if these people get legal status because of what was done to them, because of what he (my emphasis) did to them,”
The Sheriff of the Texas County where the migrants were tricked has also opened an investigation. Kirchner told Political Voice Network’s Stephanie Miller, “This is not such a tough case to prove.”
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.