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Trafficking in human lives should have consequences for its Republican perpetrators

What the shameful political stunt did manage to accomplish, however inadvertently, was to hold up a mirror to the communities the two Republicans have attempted to target.

Members of the Martha's Vineyard community and migrants gather at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown on Sept. 15. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has claimed responsibility for the stunt that sent two unexpected planes of migrants from Venezuela to the island.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Imagine being loaded onto a plane and promised what? A job? A new life? A way out of a crowded refugee camp? And then landing on an island off the coast of Massachusetts where no one was expecting you and few speak your language.

For more than 40 mostly Venezuelan refugees, including a number of children, who landed in Martha’s Vineyard midday Wednesday, this was no magical mystery tour. Some thought they were headed for Boston. Most had no idea where they were when they landed.

No wonder the incident has caught the eye of federal law enforcement.


Imagine the level of political cynicism, the level of moral depravity it takes to use real flesh and blood human beings in a national game of immigration chess.

So, come on down, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has claimed responsibility for the stunt that sent two planes to the island — sharing video of their arrival with his propaganda machine of choice, Fox News. The governor has been threatening for months to send migrants to the island that is the summer home of former President Barack Obama, and the Florida Legislature has provided some $12 million to allow him to continue to use migrants as political pawns.

It is likely DeSantis was aided and abetted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has been busy shipping thousands of immigrants, usually by bus, to New York, Chicago and D.C. — the most recent group was deposited in front of the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory Thursday morning. At least one of those two planes that landed on the Vineyard reportedly originated in San Antonio, making a stop in Florida.

There is surely a special place in hell reserved for those who treat immigrants as so much refuse to be deposited without notice for no other reason than to cause chaos and generate headlines.


But especially in the Martha’s Vineyard case, there is the question of whether laws were broken in the race to get this group of migrants on to a plane — laws against trafficking, against coercion.

“Nothing is off the table,” said US Attorney Rachael Rollins in a meeting with the Globe editorial board.

“What was said to these individuals to get them on those planes?” she said will be critical to any future investigation.

A number of those new arrivals say they were promised months of free housing and jobs and most thought that would be in Boston.

It was all a lie — and there may well be consequences for those who told those lies or, better yet, those who set the process in motion.

But what DeSantis and Abbott did manage to accomplish, however inadvertently, is to hold up a mirror to the communities the two Republicans have attempted to target.

If the point was that states and localities that expressed their values in immigrant sanctuary laws — as Massachusetts has — should be held to account, should actually live up to those values, then so be it.

The good people of Martha’s Vineyard with about 20 minutes notice managed quite ably to deal with a situation cynically intended to create crisis. The community assembled Spanish speakers as translators, including two high school teachers and some students, distributed snacks and water, and arranged for overnight shelter at St. Andrews Church in Edgartown, where a collection of volunteers delivered dinner and breakfast.


By morning, local businesses and individuals arrived with food, clothing and essentials like soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. Most of the new arrivals had little more than the warm weather clothes they were wearing when they boarded the plane. Several legal services organizations are providing help with immigration law and reaching out to relatives of the immigrants.

“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,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement issued midday Thursday.

The administration, he added, is also exploring “setting up temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod” for the newly arrived group should that be necessary. The facility was used to provide emergency accommodations to more than 250 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Boston too has been anticipating if not the Vineyard arrivals, at least those expected to drift north from New York and set aside some $1.1 million in COVID funds to provide housing.

In fact, Massachusetts and its capital city are no strangers to providing shelter to new immigrants arriving under a variety of circumstances.

Massachusetts has already welcomed well over 100 Ukrainian refugees, some making their way across the Mexican border, and nearly 2,000 Afghan refugees who fled in the wake of the Taliban takeover.


So, yes, we’ve got this.

It is shameful that millions of dollars already spent by DeSantis and the more than $12 million paid out by Texas (as of early August) to put immigrants on buses couldn’t be used to provide better on-site services rather than to make a political point. But more than shameful, if those put on buses and planes have indeed been the victims of fraud and coercion, then there needs to be a legal remedy as well.

Rollins said she would be talking with her US attorney colleagues in other localities on the receiving end of GOP-sponsored immigrant shuttles and “looking for a uniform response.” That’s a start.

Meanwhile Massachusetts continues to live up to its promise of welcoming the stranger and giving them shelter.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.