About 50 Venezuelan migrants were abruptly flown to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday and left in the care of island officials, who said they had no advance notice of their arrival.
There was some confusion as to where the migrants were sent from.
A spokeswoman for Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told Fox News his administration had dispatched the migrants as part of his plan to relocate undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary states such as Massachusetts.
But Massachusetts state Senator Julian Cyr said two charter planes landed at Martha’s Vineyard Airport at about 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Whoever arranged the flights also sent a videographer to record the arrival, and white vans to transport the passengers, Cyr said.
He said it was unclear where the passengers began their journey. At least one flight, Cyr said, originated in San Antonio, Texas, before making a stop in Florida.
The migrants’ unexpected arrival brings to Massachusetts the national debate roiling over immigration policy, which has focused on undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border.
US Representative William Keating, who represents Martha’s Vineyard in Congress, criticized DeSantis’s presumed decision to transport the migrants on Twitter.
“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. Still, Florida @GovRonDeSantis made that choice today,” he tweeted.
Our island jumped into action putting together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the children, making sure people have the healthcare and support they need. We are a community that comes together to support immigrants. pic.twitter.com/kG5bglhbLe— Dylan Fernandes (@RepDylan) September 15, 2022
Sending the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, an exclusive island where President Barack Obama and celebrities have summer homes, was a political choice, state Representative Dylan Fernandes said.
“They look at us as rich, liberal enclaves,” he said.
Cyr said DeSantis has taken credit for sending the flights.
“This is a cruel ruse that manipulates vulnerable families for seeking a better life, and I think that capitalizing on migrant families who are in the most difficult of circumstances for a gotcha moment and a political stunt is disgusting,” Cyr said.
Cyr said he was proud to see the island come together to make the migrants as comfortable as possible.
“What better rebuke to this shameless political stunt than a community actually rallying to help people and recognizing and appreciating their humanity and their dignity,” Cyr said.
Island officials were hurriedly trying to arrange food, clothing, and temporary shelter for the unexpected arrivals, some of whom told them they had no idea where they were.
“They were told people were going to meet them here and they’d have resources and the like,” said Fernandes, a Falmouth Democrat who represents the Cape & Islands in the state legislature. “But no one was alerted on the island.”
The migrants were being put in a local church shelter, and Cyr added that the Baker administration will provide emergency aid.
A spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker said the office was aware of the situation on the Vineyard.
“The Baker-Polito Administration is in touch with local officials regarding the arrival of migrants in Martha’s Vineyard,” press secretary Terry MacCormack said via e-mail. “At this time, short-term shelter services are being provided by local officials, and the Administration will continue to support those efforts.”
Like Fernandes, Cyr criticized the efforts by Republican governors in border states as using undocumented immigrants for political purposes.
After landing at Martha’s Vineyard airport, the men, women, and children went to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, “which marshaled resources to get these people food and water and sprang into action to get shelter as well,” Fernandes said.
The migrants were then taken to St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, which has space that is sometimes used as a homeless shelter, Fernandes said.
“It’s a humanitarian issue,” Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jonathan Searle told the Vineyard Gazette. “Right now we’re concerned with coordinating with state and federal officials.”
Many of the people did not know where they were, or where they were supposed to be going, Fernandes said. One man was told he was going to New York, Fernandes said.
Fernandes said the transport of undocumented migrants on a moment’s notice was inhumane.
“These are people who are being used as Republican political pawns,” Fernandes said. “Republicans are using human lives as a way to get media attention. And, you know, it’s profoundly disgusting.”