In the weeks since Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida orchestrated a plan to deliver two planeloads of unauthorized migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, questions have arisen over how the state rounded up the asylum seekers, most of them from Venezuela, on the streets of San Antonio.
Florida officials have provided little information about the program or how it was engineered. But according to many of the migrants, their journeys began with an offer from a woman they knew only as Perla.
Here is what we know about Perla and the role she played in the effort that led to 48 asylum seekers’ being transported to Massachusetts at Florida taxpayers’ expense.
Who is Perla?
Until now, little has been known about the woman who migrants said had identified herself only by her first name, Perla, when she solicited them to join the flights. A person briefed on the investigation by the Bexar County sheriff’s office into the matter told The New York Times that the person being looked at in connection with the operation was a woman named Perla Huerta.
Ms. Huerta, a former combat medic and counterintelligence agent, was discharged in August after two decades in the U.S. Army that included several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to military records. Efforts to reach Ms. Huerta by phone and at her home in Tampa, Fla., were unsuccessful.
How was she identified?
A Venezuelan migrant who was working with Ms. Huerta to recruit migrants confirmed her identity to The New York Times, and a migrant in San Antonio whom Ms. Huerta had unsuccessfully sought to sign up identified a photo of her in an interview with The Times.
Several of the migrants on Martha’s Vineyard photographed her during the recruitment process in San Antonio, according to Rachel Self, a lawyer representing the migrants. Lawyers working with them were able to match those photos with others online and in social media belonging to a woman named Perla Huerta.
What role is Perla said to have played?
The story of how the migrants were recruited for the flights was recounted by dozens of migrants in interviews with lawyers and journalists after the migrants arrived, mystified, on what they realized was a remote resort island with few resources.
A woman named Perla, most of them said, approached them in San Antonio about a free flight to Massachusetts.
There were jobs there, they were told, and people to help them. The woman provided the mostly destitute migrants with free meals at McDonald’s and a place to stay at a nearby La Quinta Inn before the flight.
The migrants each received a red folder containing a map of the United States, with an arrow stretching from Texas to Massachusetts. Another map in the shape of Martha’s Vineyard had a dot for the airport and one for a community services center.
Also in the folder was a brochure, apparently fake, titled “Refugee Migrant Benefits,” in English and Spanish. The cover proclaimed, “Massachusetts Welcomes You,” and featured a state flag that was not current. Listed on the back were the names and numbers of a church, a synagogue and a nonprofit organization on Martha’s Vineyard.
The pamphlet, reviewed by The Times, also promised “up to eight months of cash assistance” for “income-eligible” refugees in Massachusetts, apparently mimicking benefits offered to refugees who arrive in the United States through the country’s official resettlement program, which the Venezuelans were not part of.
The men, women and children who signed up were flown from San Antonio and landed first in Crestview, Fla. The migrants did not disembark there. From there, the flight stopped again in South Carolina before reaching its final destination on Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14.