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Voices of migrants, from a New England island in a new land

Martha’s Vineyard responds to surprise arrival of planeloads of migrants

EDGARTOWN — A day after arriving by plane on Martha’s Vineyard, hungry and exhausted by their long journey, more than 40 migrants on Thursday tried to make sense of their unexpected new surroundings, a world away from their troubled homeland of Venezuela.

Most seemed in remarkably high spirits as they chatted with Spanish translators and helped volunteers set up tables at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, while their children played across the street.

Bewildered but deeply thankful to residents for taking them in without notice, some of the migrants took time to share their stories, filled with harrowing uncertainty, unwavering hope, and profound gratitude.

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A 25-year-old undocumented migrant from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, Eduardo set out almost three months ago for the United States. Eventually, he reached San Antonio, where he stayed in a migrant resource center for a week and a half. Authorities said they were going to be deported, but then he received word from an agency that he could go to Boston.

“We decided to accept it to see if there were more job opportunities there,” he said. “Because here, we want to [find] work quickly.”

They were put on a plane, believing they were headed for Boston. But during the flight, the captain said they were heading to Martha’s Vineyard.

“We were all surprised because they had said Boston and they threw us here on the island,” he said.

When they landed in the afternoon, vans came to pick them up and took them to Community Services of Martha’s Vineyard.

“At first they were surprised, just like us,” Eduardo said. “But about 15 or 20 minutes later they adapted, just like us. They began to make a list and called the local police and they have been very supportive. We hadn’t eaten anything, they gave us food. They offered us to sleep, rest. They tested us for COVID. And they’ve been supporting us a lot, really a lot.”

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Between chats with other migrants on the lawn outside St. Andrew’s Thursday, a 21-year-old woman from Venezuela said she passed through seven countries to reach the United States.

The woman, who declined to give her name because of her immigration status, recalled a harrowing seven-day passage through the jungles of the Darien Gap, between Colombia and Panama. “They rob and rape people [there],” she said.

Eventually she reached Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, where she was detained by US authorities for four days, falling ill in the tight quarters.

Standing next to her outside the church, her friend said she had ridden on the roof of the notorious “tren de la muerte,” or “train of death,” through Mexico to reach the border.

The two women recounted the same story as many others flown here. They were transferred to the migrant resource center in San Antonio. A woman approached them offering food, work, and a ticket to Boston.

On Wednesday, they found themselves on Martha’s Vineyard.

“When they brought us here, they left us up in the air,” she said. “Everything is still up in the air.”

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Alejandro left Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, three months ago on foot. He spent seven days trekking through the jungle before reaching Panama. When he finally arrived in Mexico, immigration authorities kidnapped him and tried to extort him, he said through an interpreter. But he didn’t have any money so he was released.

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He crossed the border in southwest Texas and was detained by US authorities for 15 days. From there, he was transferred to the migrant resource center in San Antonio.

“There a lady offered us three months of rent, work, and they were going to put our papers in order” in a new place, he said. That place was Boston.

She took Alejandro and other migrants to a San Antonio hotel for four days, where she gave them meals and appeared to be preparing their paperwork, Alejandro said.

The woman said her name was “Mrs. Perla,” Alejandro recalled. “But I really don’t know if she’s called that or not, because in the end they’re all tricks.”

Then Alejandro and other migrants were put on a plane that made one stopover (he wasn’t sure where) before landing on Martha’s Vineyard.

“We didn’t know that we were going to get here, to the island,” Alejandro said. “We are sorry.”

The outpouring of support from residents has been “marvelous,” he said.

“I am [the most] grateful in all my life and thank God they are going to do something for us.”

Through all the hardship, he said, his goal has not changed since he left Caracas.

“More than anything, what we want is a new chance at life and to help our families who are in Venezuela,” he said.

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Another man named Eduardo, 22, took his wife and his 7-year-old daughter and left Peru on June 1, heading north.

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During the arduous, three-month journey, they were abducted in Mexico by a cartel, which demanded $1,500 Eduardo and his family did not have. “They hit us quite a bit,” he said. After 15 days, the cartel released them.

They crossed the US border in southwest Texas and applied for asylum. After five days in detention, he was transferred to the migrant resource center in San Antonio.

From there, Eduardo’s story was familiar to other migrants on the Vineyard. A mysterious woman approached the family and offered them a ticket to Boston. They offered him help finding work and with a lease, he said.

It was, they now know, a lie. But Eduardo wanted to believe it.

“When they told us that they were going to help us with the rent, to get a job, that was the only option left to us,” he said. He was told he could no longer stay at the detention center. “They only give you three days to stay there and they had already taken me out,” he said. “We were on the street.”

Maria Villagomez, deputy city manager of San Antonio, said the city was “not aware or involved with the reported flight.”

“The San Antonio Migrant Resource Center was set up as a safe and welcoming place for migrants traveling through San Antonio to their host city destination,” she said in a statement. “As a city, we believe migrants seeking asylum should be treated with kindness and respect.”

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When the plane landed, Eduardo and his family weren’t in Boston, and there was no one offering to help with the rent. No one offering to help him find a job. Just a handful of bewildered residents offering to do what they could.

“We don’t even know where in the world we are. I know we are in the United States, but I don’t know where we are,” Eduardo said. All he wants, he said, is to “live well.”

“Give my girl a future and nothing more,” he said.

Andrea Patiño Contreras of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Alexander Thompson can be reached at alexander.thompson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AlMThompson Randy Vazquez can be reached at randy.vazquez @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @RandyVmedia and on Instagram at @RandyVazquezMedia.