'Consent Form' May Not Save DeSantis in Migrant Class-Action Suit: Lawyers

Ron DeSantis is releasing consent forms he said were signed by migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard as the Florida governor tries to blunt a class-action lawsuit targeting his relocation program. But legal experts say the forms won't help him.

Taryn Fenske, spokeswoman for DeSantis, disclosed the forms to media outlets Tuesday, reiterating that he was trying to help the migrants by flying them to a more welcoming destination. The Republican governor's response came after the migrants and advocacy groups sued DeSantis for what it called a scheme targeting vulnerable people. However, legal commentators say the consent forms are possibly invalid or undercut his justification.

"DeSantis may have gotten the immigrants to sign consent forms -- but if there was fraud (and it sounds like there was), then any purported contract was and is void," Tristan Snell, lawyer and former New York state prosecutor, said in a tweet.

Fenske, in a statement to Fox News, pushed back against the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Massachusetts by several of the migrants and advocacy group Alianza Americas. Deriding the lawsuit as "political theater" brought by "opportunistic activists," she said the real danger to migrants is President Joe Biden's approach to the southern border.

Gov. Ron DeSantis at Rally
Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Unite and Win Rally at the Wyndham Hotel on August 19, 2022, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. DeSantis on Tuesday released consent forms signed by migrants who were transported to Martha's Vineyard as part of his disputed relocation program. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

"If these activists spent even a fraction of this time and effort at the border, perhaps some accountability would be brought to the Biden Administration's reckless border policies that entice illegal immigrants to make dangerous and often lethal journeys through Central America and put their lives in the hands of cartels and Coyotes," Fenske said.

The forms Fenske provided to Fox News were available in English and Spanish and were given to the migrants before boarding the two planes that arrived unexpectedly in Martha's Vineyard, an upscale vacation enclave, two weeks ago.

The forms indicate that signatories consented to be transported and agreed to "hold the benefactor or its designed representatives harmless of all liability arising out of or in any way relating to any injuries and damages that may occur during the agreed transport to locations outside of Texas until the final destination in Massachusetts."

Despite Fenske referring to the migrants as "illegal immigrants," the form states that the benefactors agree they are "not providing transportation made in furtherance of any unlawful entry into the United States."

Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas, told Newsweek in a statement that "signing a piece of paper does not constitute informed consent."

"The governor of Florida and his accomplices induced vulnerable people to board airplanes by falsely promising work opportunities, education for children, and assistance with their immigration cases," he said. "It's morally despicable and we also believe it is illegal, which is why we're pursuing legal action."

Judd Legum, a writer and lawyer, reacted to the release of the forms pointing out on Twitter that the lawsuit alleges DeSantis and his associates "went to extraordinary lengths to coerce migrants into signing these forms."

"Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that migrants, who were suffering from food insecurity, were gathered together and told they could receive $10 McDonald's gift cards if they signed the form," LeGum wrote. "They were not told what the form was or given time to read it."

Legum further wrote that the lawsuit alleges the entirety of the form was not translated into Spanish, which he said is supported by the document released by DeSantis. The governor's statement on Tuesday that the migrants were "homeless" and "hungry" also substantiates the lawsuit, wrote Legum.

"DeSantis' 'consent form' is more like an admission to exploitation," Max Solomon, a lawyer and Democratic activist, wrote in a tweet. "I've seen similar behavior when abusers withhold food, medicine, or access to family from disabled or elderly people to obtain money or real estate."

Newsweek has reached out to DeSantis' office for comment.

Update 9/22/22, 4:35 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional comment from Alianza Americas.