Immigrant recruiter for flights to Martha’s Vineyard feels betrayed

(CNN) — The migrant says he had been living on the streets of San Antonio for almost a month when he met a woman named “Perla” who made him a convincing offer.

She offered him clothes, food and money, she told CNN, and in return he would go out and find other immigrants to serve as passengers on flights to Massachusetts. She gave him $10 McDonald’s gift cards for immigrants who agreed to board the flights, and told him to tell them that they and their children would be well treated upon arrival.

“She had told me that the people who were going to Massachusetts, before I sent them, had told me that they were going to receive them. She was going to give them shelter, a place to stay. They were going to help them with the language, and those who had children, were going to study,” she said.

The recruiter spoke to CNN in his first televised interview and was granted anonymity to protect his safety. He provided CNN with Perla’s business card, text messages and audio messages to authenticate her story and provide an inside account of how the migrant flights came together on September 14.

The flights were organized by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, as part of his criticism of the federal government’s immigration and border security policies. He told Fox News that all of the immigrants signed consent forms and were provided a packet with information about services on the island of Massachusetts.

Attorneys for the immigrants filed a class action lawsuit, saying they were misled into accepting the flights and told they would arrive to find housing, jobs and help with the immigration process. In fact, no one on Martha’s Vineyard knew they were coming, local officials said. The sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, said his agency will open an investigation into the flights to see if any laws were broken.

For his part, the recruiter told CNN that he, too, felt betrayed by Perla and decided to tell his side of the story, saying he was unaware of the deception.

“I never, ever knew (that) was from a governor or a politician,” the recruiter said. “So my only will has always been to help people.”

‘The state has to take care of them’

The recruiter told CNN that he agreed to work with Perla to recruit the asylum seekers once he realized they were being provided with food and shelter in a hotel in San Antonio where they would stay for a few days before boarding flights.

“My only intention was to help people so they could have some stability,” he said. “She took them to a hotel. At the hotel I realized that they were being treated well”, even providing them with food, laundry and clothing.

She told him that her job was to recruit people and help them.

“She said she would hire me and give me some of her cards. I distributed those cards, based on the information, which was that we would send them to a sanctuary place,” she said. “In addition to that, until the flight left, we took them to a hotel where, as I explained to you, they were provided with services.”

In addition, he said he was given $10 McDonald’s gift cards to give to migrants who agreed to be on the flights.

Attempts to contact the woman named Pearl were unsuccessful.

“They gave them to me so that I could give them to them when people wanted to be on the flight,” he explained. “Everything was always voluntary. No one was ever forced to do anything. When these people always said yes, I made sure they gave me the papers, their immigration papers.”

The flights took off from San Antonio, stopped in Florida, and finally headed to Martha’s Vineyard on September 14. Once they arrived, she said she received a concerned phone message from one of the migrants.

“We are adrift here. These people did not even know that we would arrive,” said the migrant.

The recruiter said he texted Perla that the migrants were nervous because there was no one to greet them and they were sleeping on the side of the road. He showed CNN what she replied: “Tell them to call the numbers we gave them. Church. The state has to take care of them.”

Later that night, he said that she left him an audio message.

“I know they were scared at first, but now they are in a much better place and they are going to be taken care of there like never before. I know they came to another city but it’s within Massachusetts. Believe me you are going to have a much better life than here or anywhere else,” he said.

The migrants ended up spending 44 hours on Martha’s Vineyard and sleeping in an Episcopal church before being taken to Joint Base Cape Cod on Sept. 16.

The recruiter said over the weekend that he is no longer in contact with Perla. However, last week he told CNN that she warned him not to talk to reporters.

“If a reporter calls you,” he texted her, “don’t say anything.”

CNN’s Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

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