“Perla,” the woman who allegedly helped arrange migrant flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, has been identified by CNN as Perla Huerta, who served as a counterintelligence agent and combat medic specialist in the U.S. Army until August.
About 50 migrants were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last month in two flights organized by Florida’s Republican governor as part of his criticism of the federal government’s immigration and border security policies. Lawyers for the migrants have filed a class-action lawsuit, saying they were misled into accepting the flights after being told they would arrive for housing, work and help with the immigration process; no one on Martha’s Vineyard knew they were coming, local officials have said.
A woman named “Perla” offered clothes, food and money to a migrant who had been living on the streets in San Antonio, Texas, in exchange for finding other people who would get on a flight to Massachusetts, the migrant told CNN. The recruiter was unaware of any deception and later felt betrayed by “Perla,” he told CNN.
A friend of Huerta’s confirmed to CNN that the woman in a photo provided to CNN by a migrant is Huerta. The New York Times reported that other migrants have identified Huerta from photos taken of her in San Antonio, according to Rachel Self, an attorney representing the migrants.
CNN has reached out to Huerta for comment.
Huerta served in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years, U.S. Army spokesman Madison Bonzo confirmed to CNN.
“Perla Haydee Huerta served as a Combat Medic Specialist (68W) and Counterintelligence Agent (35L) in the Regular Army from April 2002 to August 2022. She deployed to Iraq from May 2003 to July 2004 and October 2008 to October 2009; Afghanistan from December 2010 to July 2011, September 2014 to January 2015, August 2018 to November 2018 and January 2019 to February 2019; and Djibouti from August 2013 to October 2013,” Bonzo said. “She held the rank of master sergeant at the end of her service.”
Huerta was discharged in August, the Times reported, citing military records.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has disputed that the migrants did not know where they were going, saying they had signed a waiver and had been given a package with a map of Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s clear that’s where they were going,” he said, adding that it was all “voluntary.”
DeSantis defends transporting migrants to Martha’s Vineyard
The sheriff’s office in Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, will open an investigation into the flights to see if any laws were broken, the sheriff has said.
One migrant previously told CNN he had been living on the streets of San Antonio for nearly a month when he met a woman named “Perla” who offered him clothes, food and money in exchange for finding other migrants who would take flights to Massachusetts. , he told CNN.
She gave him $10 McDonald’s gift cards to be given to the migrants who agreed to board the planes and asked him to say that they and their children 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 would take them in. They would have shelter, a place to live. They would help them with the language, and those who had children, they had to study,” he said.
“I never, ever knew (it) was a governor or a politician,” the recruiter said. “So my only desire has always been to help people.”
The recruiter spoke to CNN in his first television interview and was granted anonymity to protect his safety. He provided CNN with “Perla’s” business cards, text messages and audio messages to authenticate his story and to provide an inside account of how the 9/14 migrant flights came together.
Migrants say they were bribed to leave Texas
The recruiter told CNN that he arranged to work with “Perla” to recruit the asylum seekers when he realized they were being given food and shelter at a hotel in San Antonio where they would stay for a few days before boarding the planes. Most of the asylum seekers are known to be from Venezuela.
“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 they were treated well,” including being provided with meals, laundry and clothes.