A path to legal status has opened for the 49 migrants flown last month to Martha's Vineyard after a Texas sheriff signed off on U visa certifications.
The move came Thursday from Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.
"It opens the door for immigration protection," said Ivan Espinoza Madrigal, executive director of Attorneys for Civil Rights. "This is a fundamental requirement to be able to apply for a special program reserved for victims of crime."
Espinoza Madrigal, who represents some of those migrants, said the U visa program is meant to shield migrants who are victims of a crime and facilitate their cooperation with authorities.
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"A government authority, whether it's local, state, county or federal, needs to certify that you have been a victim of a crime and that you've been collaborating with law enforcement in the resolution, the investigation of that matter," he explained.
If granted by immigration officials, U visas would then give the migrants legal status in the country and permission to work legally.
Back in September, Salazar opened a criminal investigation, arguing the migrants were lured by a woman to hop on the planes under false promises of jobs and shelter, all at the direction of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"We are grateful for Sheriff Salazar's recognition of the gravity of these events," The ACLU said in a statement Thursday. "These certifications are an acknowledgment of the wrongs done to our clients and a crucial step in helping them to chart their path forward."
The U.S. Treasury Department said this week it is looking at the possible misuse of COVID-19 funds by DeSantis to fly the migrants. All this is in addition to the civil suit filed by Espinoza Madrigal and other pro-bono immigration lawyers.
The migrants moved out of Joint Base Cape Cod last week to other shelters in the region.
If the migrants choose to apply for U visas, Espinoza Madrigal said they could take months or even years to be granted.