A Texas sheriff has certified that the nearly 50 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were victims of a crime. That certification is a key step in qualifying them for a special visa they would not have otherwise been eligible for.

Texas’ Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar expeditiously signed certification forms for all of the migrants, according to Boston-based immigration attorney Rachel Self, who went down to San Antonio to obtain the paperwork.

"Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint," Salazar
said in a statement to GBH News. "We have submitted documentation through the federal system to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation."

The documents are key parts of applications for U-visas, which are reserved for crime victims, or people who witnessed crimes. Immigration attorneys like Self are seeking these visas for the mostly Venezuelan immigrants on the grounds that they were brought to the Vineyard under false pretenses.

“These certifications will ensure that the migrants can continue to help our law enforcement officials, and that they will be able to process and heal from the incredibly traumatic experiences they have suffered as a result of the cruel, heartless acts committed against them,” Self said in a message to GBH News.

Many of the migrants told media they’ve come to the United States to seek asylum, and were sheltering at the Migrant Resource Center in San Antonio when they were approached by a woman who identified herself as “Perla.” They were falsely promised jobs, housing and education.

The woman even arranged for them to stay at hotels briefly in San Antonio before their flights, and provided McDonald’s gift certificates. Many immigrants were told several destinations they may wind up. No one anticipated landing on the remote island of Martha’s Vineyard.

U-visa applicants are required to get a certification from law enforcement saying that they were victims of a crime or witnessed one, and that they have cooperated with any efforts to investigate the crime. Getting a certification often takes over a year, so it’s unusual that Salazar turned them around so quickly after the September flights.

Self said that over the past few weeks, immigration attorneys have worked with Salazar’s Organized Crime Division to coordinate and conduct interviews with the immigrants, and collected their accounts, photos and videos of the flights.

Salazar's office has identified suspects in their investigation but isn't currently releasing names publicly. The sheriff opened a criminal investigation into DeSantis’ actions last month, the first law enforcement authority to do so. The federal Treasury Department has also begun an investigation of whether DeSantis improperly used federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay for the flights.