The migrant says he had been living on the streets of San Antonio for nearly a month when he met a woman named “Perla” who made a compelling offer.
She offered him clothes, food and money, he told CNN, and in exchange, he would go out and find other migrants to serve as passengers on flights to Massachusetts. She gave him $10 McDonald’s gift cards to be given to those migrants who agreed to board the flights, and she told him to say that they and their kids would be treated well upon arrival.
“She had told me that the people who were going to Massachusetts, before I sent them, she had told me that they were going to receive them. They were going to be given shelter, a place to stay. They were going to help them with the language, and those who had children, they were going to study,” he 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 his story and to provide an inside account of how the migrant flights on September 14 came together.
The flights were organized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, as part of his criticism of the federal government’s immigration and border security policies. He told Fox News the migrants all signed consent forms and were provided a packet with information for services on the Massachusetts island.
Attorneys for the migrants have filed a class action lawsuit, saying they were misled in agreeing to the flights and had been told that they would arrive to find housing, jobs and help with the immigration process. In fact, nobody on Martha’s Vineyard even knew they were coming, local officials have said. The sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, said his agency will open an investigation into the flights to see whether any laws were broken.
For his part, the recruiter told CNN 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 (it) was a governor or 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 he agreed work with Perla to recruit the asylum-seekers once he realized they were being provided food and shelter at a hotel at a San Antonio where they would stay a few days before boarding the flights.
“My only intention was to help the people so they could get some stability,” he said. “She took them to a hotel. At the hotel, I realized that they were being treated well,” including being provided with meals, laundry and clothes.
She told him his job was to recruit people and help her.
“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,” he said. “In addition to that, until the flight would leave we would take them to a hotel where, as I explained to you, they were provided services.”
In addition, he said he was given $10 McDonald’s gift cards to give to the migrants who agreed to be on the flights.
Attempts to reach the woman called Perla were not successful.
“They gave them to me so 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 that they gave me the papers, their migration papers.”
The flights took off from San Antonio, stopped in Florida and ultimately went on to Martha’s Vineyard on September 14. Once they arrived, he said he received a concerned phone message from one of the migrants.
“We’re adrift here. These people didn’t even know we would arrive,” the migrant said.
The recruiter said he messaged Perla that the migrants were nervous because nobody was there to meet them and they were sleeping on the side of the road. He showed CNN what she texted him back: “Tell them to call the numbers we gave them. The church. The state has to take care of them.”
Later that night, he said 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 you have no idea. I know they arrived in another city but it is within Massachusetts. Believe me they are going to have a much better life than here or anywhere else,” she said.
The migrants wound up spending 44 hours on Martha’s Vineyard and slept at an Episcopal church before being taken to Joint Base Cape Cod on September 16.
The recruiter said over the weekend that he is no longer in contact with Perla. However, last week he told CNN she warned him not to talk to reporters.
“If a reporter calls you,” she texted, “don’t say anything.”
CNN’s Eric Levenson contributed to this report.