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What we know so far about the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard by Ron DeSantis

Mass. politicians have denounced the Florida governor's action as a political stunt.

Two planes of migrants from Venezuela arrived suddenly Wednesday night on Martha's Vineyard. Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff

Florida flew about 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard yesterday, a move that sparked outcry among local politicians and sent the community scrambling to provide resources and support.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s communications director, Taryn Fenske, told Fox News the planes were part of a state program to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.”

“States like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden administration’s open border policies,” Fenske said.

COVID tests are administered to the migrants flown in to the island Wednesday. – Abigail Rosen/MV Times

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature set aside $12 million for the transport program.

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The migrant group arrived on two charter planes at Martha’s Vineyard Airport Wednesday and were brought to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and given snacks and shelter before spending the night at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, the Martha’s Vineyard Times reported.

Here’s what we know so far:

How it happened

Three of the migrants told NPR they had recently crossed the border in Texas and were staying at a shelter in San Antonio. They told the news outlet that a woman named “Perla” approached them outside the shelter and lured them onto a plane, saying they would be taken to Boston and could get expedited work papers there.   

ON THE VINEYARD:

“She (Perla) offered us help. Help that never arrived,” Andres Duarte, a 30-year-old Venezuelan, told NPR. “Now we are here. We got on the plane with a vision of the future, of making it.” 

NPR said it confirmed that a plane originated in San Antonio and made stops in Florida and South Carolina before flying to Martha’s Vineyard.

Local nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights said its attorneys and staff are on the ground in Martha’s Vineyard to meet with the impacted migrants. 

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“We are helping to connect them with local services to ensure their immediate needs are met,” LCR said in a statement. “At the same time, we are also investigating the inhumane manner in which they were shipped across the country, to determine the responsible parties, whether state or federal criminal laws against human trafficking and kidnapping were violated, and what other legal remedies are available.”

To that end, the organization said it is convening pro bono attorneys, immigration specialists, law enforcement, and social service providers.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition said it is working with advocates and officials to better understand the situation. 

“While we are frustrated to see politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis play politics with the health and safety of migrants, the MIRA Coalition is working hard to make sure the migrants that arrive in Massachusetts have their needs met,” MIRA Coalition Political Director Sarang Sekhavat said in a statement.

Gov. Charlie Baker issued a statement Thursday thanking those who quickly mobilized to provide assistance. 

“The Commonwealth has many resources for assisting individuals that arrive in Massachusetts with varying immigration statuses and needs and is working with all partners involved to make sure those resources are available to the migrants that arrived last night,” Baker said.

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He added that his administration is exploring setting up temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod and will share additional information when it becomes available.

DeSantis’ strategy is not a new one; Republican governors in Texas and Arizona have been sending busloads of migrants to New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., the Associated Press reported. 

DeSantis spoke about the transport during an unrelated event on Thursday, according to WCVB, which posted a clip of the remarks.

“If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida’s a good place (to migrate), our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state, and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” DeSantis said. “And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”

Touching on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s busing, he said that sending migrants to sanctuary states and cities further highlights their “indefensible” border policies.

“The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk and they’re so upset that this is happening, and it just shows you their virtue signaling is a fraud,” DeSantis said.

Immigration also has implications for taxes and social services in border states, he said. 

“Every community in America should be sharing in the burdens,” DeSantis said. “It shouldn’t all fall on a handful of red states.”

Politicians respond

The transport drew condemnation from a number of local leaders.

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“Republicans who call themselves Christians have been plotting for some time to use human lives — men, women, and children — as … political pawns,” tweeted state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents Martha’s Vineyard. “It is evil and inhumane.”

In other tweets, he praised the island’s quick response. 

“These immigrants were not met with chaos, they were met with compassion,” Fernandes wrote. “We are a community & nation that is stronger because of immigrants. The community coming together with water, food, interpretation help, & resources to support these families represent the best of America.”

Sen. Ed Markey tweeted that DeSantis “could learn a lesson from Massachusetts on what patriotism and liberty really look like if he weren’t so busy using humans as props in a cruel stunt to buoy his pathetic political aspirations.”

He added: “To those who’ve just landed: we gladly embrace you.” 

“Exploiting vulnerable people for political stunts is repulsive and cruel,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted. “Massachusetts is fully capable of handling asylum seekers, and I’ll keep working with local, state, and federal partners to ensure we have the necessary resources to care for people with dignity.”

Rep. Bill Keating, whose district includes Martha’s Vineyard, similarly condemned DeSantis for using refugees as “political pawns” in a “taxpayer-funded stunt.”

“History does not look kindly on leaders who treat human beings like cargo, loading them up and sending them a thousand miles away without telling them their destination,” the congressman wrote in a Facebook post. “Still, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made that choice today.”

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Republican gubernatorial nominee Geoff Diehl, however, described the action as a consequence of “a humanitarian crisis, a public safety crisis, a public health crisis, and a national security crisis” at America’s southern border.

“I applaud the people of Martha’s Vineyard who instantly sprang into action to address this situation as it unfolded,” he said in a statement. “I also lament the fact that a motivating factor in Florida’s decision to relocate immigrants here is that Massachusetts has become a ‘sanctuary state,’ making it a natural destination.”

Migrants wave goodbye to a volunteer while leaving Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. – Abigail Rosen / MV Times

What’s next?

Officials on Martha’s Vineyard are expecting more planes full of migrants to arrive on the island, the Martha’s Vineyard Times reported.

“We understand that perhaps two more planes are coming with perhaps 50 or more people coming,” West Tisbury Town Administrator Jennifer Rand said at a Select Board meeting Wednesday, according to the Times. 

She added: “I’m a little unclear about the situation, as is everybody because everybody is scrambling a bit.”

Elizabeth Folcarelli, executive director of MV Community Services, told the Times that members of the group believe that more migrants are headed to the island from Texas and “that they were part of a bigger group.”

Migrants bussed to New York City and Washington, D.C. from Texas have also begun showing up at Boston-area hospitals seeking medical attention and help with housing, according to GBH. Boston.com has reached out to Mayor Michelle Wu’s office for comment.

The migrants huddle up in a parking lot outside of MV Community Services. – Abigail Rosen/MV Times

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