After threatening to send buses of Cuban asylum-seekers to President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis instead made the hasty decision last week to fly two planes filled with Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The two planes carrying about 50 migrants arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday, Sept. 14, without any prior warning. The migrants originated in Texas, stopped in Florida, and were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, an island south of Cape Cod. DeSantis quickly took credit for the flights, according to a statement from his office.
“States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden Administration’s open border policies,” the statement said.
According to Sue Diverio, the executive director for Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, organizers received no prior warning and only learned of it after they had arrived. White vans took the asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, where a coordinated effort among volunteers, churches, and multiple community organizations has been working to find housing, food, and shelter and to accommodate the asylum-seekers. On Friday, Sept. 16, the asylum-seekers were taken to Joint Base Cape Cod, a designated emergency shelter, where they have been receiving legal services, and humanitarian aid.
“Some people are very confused,” Diverio said. “They don’t really even know where they are.”
Over the weekend, Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes announced that he is urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation to hold Desantis accountable. Pro-bono attorneys from Lawyers for Civil Rights representing 30 of the migrants have requested U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins and Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey open a criminal investigation.
“Individuals, working in concert with state officials, including the Florida governor, made numerous false promises [to the migrants]—including of work opportunities, schooling for their children, and immigration assistance—in order to induce them to travel,” Lawyers for Civil Rights said in a statement.
According to Diverio, the primary second language spoken on Martha’s Vineyard is Portuguese, not Spanish, so the language barrier has proven additionally challenging for the asylum-seekers. According to reporting from the Vineyard Gazette, high school AP Spanish students were called to provide translation services.
“We’ve had to rally and get translators, but that of course adds another level of just trauma and stress to the immigrants,” Diverio said. “But I feel confident they’re in very good hands with the people here and the support of the different agencies. There’s been a great outpouring of love and support for them because those of us on the Vineyard know this is an extremely difficult situation.”
In Martha’s Vineyard, where the average household income is over $100,000 a year and there is a limited number of affordable homes available to purchase or rent, organizers say sending the asylum-seekers to such an affluent island only adds to the ongoing challenges they are facing. As of Sept 14. the asylum-seekers slept in St. Andrews Church in Edgartown, a village on the eastern side of the island, and a meeting was held on Sept. 15 to determine where they would be housed next.
“The temporary immediate planning or the immediate needs are being met,” Diverio said. “Right now, all of us working with this crisis situation are just grateful that the community has come together to offer the immediate shelter. People have been wonderful with volunteering and donating. So there’s been a great outpouring of love and support from the community, and I think that will help to carry through as we go forward and this group of agencies continues to plan for the future.”
DeSantis and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Marie Nuñez announced earlier this month that they wanted to send recently arrived migrants, including Cubans, to Delaware. Cubans and Cuban-American exiles, a majority of whom identify as Republican and have historically supported GOP candidates in the state, responded with harsh backlash, saying the politician they voted for had turned his back on them in favor of anti-immigrant votes. In response, DeSantis backpedaled his position on Cuban asylum-seekers specifically and said he would only send “illegal immigrants,” even doubling down on the policy during a recent keynote speech at the National Conservative Conference in Aventure, Florida.
“This is anti-human it’s anti-immigrant,” said Adriana Rivera, director of communication for Florida Immigrant Coalition. “It’s fully political, and he’s using human beings to make this political statement, and Cubans nonetheless. He is lying to them and using their trauma against them. It’s really disgusting.”
In Doral, Florida, a Venezuelan enclave in Miami, Venezuelan advocates woke up enraged by the news that instead of Cubans, DeSantis had decided to send two planes with a majority of Venezuelans.
“Yesterday, Gov. DeSantis chose to honor the nickname that Spanish-speaking Floridians have given him by being a ‘desastre,’ a disaster, and sending two flights of immigrants, including Venezuelans, to places where they don’t have support systems,” said Yareliz Mendez-Zamora, the federal campaign lead with the Florida Immigrant Coalition during a press conference. “As a daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, I understand why people are fleeing. Venezuelans find themselves running away from a brutal regime and now find themselves at the mercy of another strong-arm man … We are not political pawns; we are people and deserve dignity.”
The DeSantis administration is using $12 million taken from federal COVID-19 relief funds to send asylum-seekers out of the state. Organizers say they wish those funds would instead be used to help thousands of Floridians who are struggling to pay their rents, buy food, and pay for utilities. Organizers in Martha’s Vineyard say they hope that there will be sufficient communication to better prepare for their arrival if more asylum-seekers are sent.