Planes carrying nearly 50 migrants from Venezuela were dispatched by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and flown to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday afternoon, without notice to residents or island officials.
By Thursday morning, state and local leaders were mapping out the next steps for the unexpected group, as the community stepped up and rallied around them by providing resources like food and temporary shelter.
Here is what we know about the situation unfolding on the island so far:
What do we know about the group?
Massachusetts state Senator Julian Cyr said two charter planes landed at the airport around 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Cyr said it was unclear where the passengers began their journey, but said that at least one flight originated in San Antonio before making a stop in Florida.
Island officials said they were not given notice about their arrival, but worked quickly to try and help the group get settled in Wednesday night. Lisa Belcastro, the director of the island’s Winter Homes homeless shelter who is leading response efforts, said officials had about 20 minutes’ notice to react to the situation.
State Representative Dylan Fernandes, a Falmouth Democrat who represents the Cape and Islands, said the group of immigrants were told that people were “going to meet them here and they’d have resources and the like” when they arrived.
Migrants were given a booklet listing Martha’s Vineyard Community Services as a place to contact, Fernandes said Thursday.
Martina Thornton, manager of Dukes County Emergency Management, said there are a few families among the group, but most are men in their 20s and 30s. None of the immigrants, she said, have significant medical issues and they all speak only Spanish.
Many of the migrants didn’t know where they were, or where they were supposed to be going, Fernandes said. Belcastro said many want to leave the island as soon as possible.
Who sent the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard?
DeSantis claimed responsibility for sending the planes. A spokesperson for the Florida governor told Fox News Wednesday that his administration dispatched them as part of his plan to relocate undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary states like Massachusetts.
When DeSantis was asked Thursday about the role his administration played, he said that “if you have folks that are inclined to think Florida’s a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state.”
“It’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” he continued. “And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”
Massachusetts politicians blasted DeSantis in response to the situation on Wednesday.
Cyr, who said DeSantis had taken credit, equated the move to a “cruel ruse that manipulates vulnerable families for seeking a better life.”
“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.
Fernandes said sending the migrants to the island — where former president Barack Obama and celebrities have summer homes — was a politically charged decision. On Thursday, while addressing the matter, he called DeSantis a “coward.”
Cyr also criticized similar efforts by Republican governors in border states as being motivated by politics.
US Representative William Keating, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, slammed DeSantis for the move, tweeting that 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.”
US Senator 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.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren weighed in Thursday, tweeting that “exploiting vulnerable people for political stunts is repulsive and cruel.” But she said the state is “fully capable of handling asylum seekers.”
“I’ll keep working with local, state, and federal partners to ensure we have the necessary resources to care for people with dignity,” she tweeted.
What has the response on the island been like?
The community has come together to provide services and help find shelter for the immigrants following their arrival.
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.
They were later taken to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, which has space that’s sometimes used as a shelter, Fernandes said.
Island officials on Wednesday were rushing around to arrange food, clothing, and temporary shelter for the group. Volunteers on Thursday were still trying to organize a more comprehensive response to the situation.
Edgartown Police tweeted Thursday that the emergency migrant shelter was overwhelmed with support and “nothing further” was needed. They asked people to “please not drop off anything” else.
“We will keep you updated if further supplies and support are needed,” police said.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, called the treatment of the migrants “cruel and immoral.” But, she added, the “immediate response” on the island epitomizes Massachusetts “at its best: a place that values the lives and well-being of all people.”
“Immigrants and asylum-seekers are people — period,” Rose said in a statement. “It is cruel and immoral that some governors are involuntarily flying and busing people and families to other states, based on their perceived immigration status.”
What is the state and other officials doing?
A spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday that his administration was aware of the situation on the island and “in touch with local officials regarding the arrival of migrants in Martha’s Vineyard.”
“At this time, short-term shelter services are being provided by local officials, and the Administration will continue to support those efforts,” press secretary Terry MacCormack said via e-mail.
Cyr said that the Baker administration will provide emergency aid.
Baker on Thursday afternoon issued a statement thanking those who came together to provide assistance on the island.
He said the state has resources available for assisting individuals who arrive in Massachusetts “with varying immigration statuses and needs and is working with all partners involved to make sure those resources are available.”
“In addition, the Baker-Polito Administration is exploring setting up temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod,” he said.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Maura Healey, the state’s Democratic nominee for governor, said in a statement that their office “has been in touch with state and local partners to offer support and resources as needed.”
“We are working to get more information about this situation,” the spokesperson said.
Fernandes also said local leaders are working with the state attorney general’s office to get immigration lawyers to the island.
The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition said while the organization is “frustrated to see politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis play politics with the health and safety of migrants,” they are working to ensure the migrants “have their needs met.”
“We are working with advocates and officials to better understand the situation, and we hope to learn more through the hours and days ahead,” Sarang Sekhavat, the coalition’s political director, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, organizational meetings continued to take place Thursday to chart next steps, with both island and state emergency officials involved.
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.
Read more on this developing story:
- ‘No one was alerted on the island.’ Planes of Venezuelan migrants land on Martha’s Vineyard.
- ‘They were surprised, just like us.’ Martha’s Vineyard responds to surprise arrival of planeloads of migrants.
- On Martha’s Vineyard, a rush to help migrants, from restaurant owners to Spanish students
- Immigration and legal advocacy groups map out plans to help Venezuelan migrants on Martha’s Vineyard
- Two busloads of migrants dropped off near Vice President Harris’ residence in Washington
Shannon Larson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.