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‘It’s a competition, a vile competition.’ Politicians spar over migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard

Venezuelan migrants are transported to Cape Cod
After spending two nights in Martha's Vineyard, Venezuelan migrants are transported to Cape Cod.

The demand for answers continued Friday in the wake of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s decision to fly roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants unannounced to Martha’s Vineyard, as the migrants received temporary shelter on a military base on Cape Cod.

“That anyone would seek to use vulnerable people in a political stunt for political gain is callous and shameful,” Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Boston Democrat, said in a statement.

“This is about people,” Pressley continued. “This is about their humanity and their fundamental right to survive and be treated with dignity and respect. I’m proud of the Massachusetts community for responding with compassion, from the grandmothers who have housed asylum seekers to the local nurses that provide much-needed care.

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Her words were echoed by US Senator Ed Markey, who blasted DeSantis and Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a Friday interview on CNN.

“Well obviously, Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, they’re vying for the mantel of being the next Donald Trump,” Markey, a Malden Democrat, told CNN. “How do you make America great again by making America hate again? So it’s a competition, a vile competition, an unconscionable competition, to use immigrants, Muslims, anyone who they want to be able to describe as ‘the other’ as a pawn in their own personal political ambition.”

US attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins said Friday she had already reached out to the Department of Justice to ask for guidance based on legal action that other US attorneys have taken in states like New York and Illinois, and plans to offer her full support to the efforts of attorneys in Massachusetts working to protect migrant rights.

“I would like to be, if possible, a force multiplier there,” she said, speaking at a Globe Summit panel. Rollins added that “if there are crimes that were committed [during the movement of migrants into Massachusetts] ... that is certainly something that we’d be speaking with the Department of Justice about.”

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In Florida Thursday, DeSantis defended the flights, which appeared to originate in San Antonio, with brief stops in Florida. A spokesperson for DeSantis said the state tapped into a $12 million “relocation program.”

“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,” DeSantis said Thursday.

“It’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” he said. “And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”

Charlie Crist, a Democrat vying to unseat DeSantis in November, on Friday tweeted out publicly available documents showing Florida paid Vertol Systems $615,000 to fly the migrants out of that state.

“Ron won’t answer questions so we looked ourselves: FL paid Vertol Systems $615,000 on Sept 8th out of the $12m deportation fund,” Crist tweeted. “So Floridians paid $12,300 for each refugee DeSantis trafficked for his own political purposes.”

While Crist blasted what he called DeSantis’s “disgraceful” political stunt, another Florida Republican, US Senator Marco Rubio, took to Twitter to accuse the federal government of improperly helping the migrants flown to the Vineyard.

“Today I will be demanding answers from @DHSgov about reports from Martha’s Vineyard that federal agents assigned random homeless shelters across the country as the mailing addresses of illegal migrants, even after the migrants told them they had no address in the U.S.,” Rubio, a former presidential candidate in 2016, alleged in a tweet from his campaign account.

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A request for comment on Rubio’s tweet was sent Friday afternoon to DHS. It wasn’t immediately clear what Rubio was referring to.

US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Georgia Republican, also appeared to back DeSantis in a tweet Friday in which she suggested state governors should have free rein to deport undocumented migrants. The deportation process is adjudicated by the federal government.

“Governors should be able to deport illegal aliens,” she tweeted. “They should not have to rely on the executive branch that refuses to enforce the laws of the land. ‘Migrants’ shouldn’t be shipped all over the country, they should be deported.”

However US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive New York Democrat, tweeted Friday that the warm reception offered to the migrants in Massachusetts shows not everyone in the country views new arrivals with hostility.

“What a lot of Republican politicians fail to understand is that not everyone shares their zero-sum, scarcity mindset,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Many of us understand that immigrants and refugees are a blessing. They have so much to offer our country, & much of our growth as a nation is because of them.”

She said in a follow-up tweet, “Shout out to Massachusetts and the people of Martha’s Vineyard for showing the world what the best of America looks like.”

Her words were echoed by US Representative Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who briefly sought his party’s presidential nomination in 2019.

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“The cruelty is the point,” Moulton tweeted Friday from his campaign account, along with a picture of DeSantis. “How shameful coming from an American governor.”



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.