WEST TISBURY, MASS. (WHDH) – Residents and volunteers on Martha’s Vineyard are working to accommodate 50 migrants who arrived Wednesday on a surprise flight sent by Florida Governor Ron Desantis in protest of President Joe Biden’s border policies, a move which state lawmakers describe as “beyond inhumane.”
7NEWS sources said island officials were given about 20 minutes’ notice before the planes arrived sometime after 3 p.m. Sources also said the migrants arrived with bags as well as what appeared to be directions meant to help them try and find a local community services center. Of the 50 or so that were dropped off, only two people appeared to speak English. The 50 migrants came from San Antonio, Texas, on a flight through the Carolinas despite Florida Gov. Desantis’ involvement.
One of the migrants, Lilibett, said she didn’t know she was coming to Massachusetts with her husband, brother and 11-year-old son but they’re glad that they’re here now as help pours in from all over the vineyard. Community members are providing the migrants with food, clothing, legal services and translators including some AP Spanish students from the local high school.
“The community is hugely generous,” said Lisa Belcastro, the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Homeless Shelter. “We literally have everything we need, I mean we need for all of our guests to get the help that they need to be in the country and safe.”
Community members are providing migrants with temporary assistance including housing at the Parish Center, which only has one shower, but they hope state and federal officials can help with longer-term needs.
“At some point in time they have to move from here to somewhere else,” said Belcastro. “We don’t have the services to deal with 50 immigrants. We can’t house everyone here who lives here and works here. We don’t have housing for 50 more people.”
State leaders react
State Representative Dylan Fernandes, one of the many local lawmakers who rushed to assist the migrants, said he’s outraged after Desantis announced he sent them to make states like Massachusetts share the burden of border states.
“To use women and children as political pawns is cowardice,” Fernandes said. “Governor Desantis is a coward.”
A spokesperson for Governor Charlie Baker said his team is working behind the scenes on the matter.
“The Baker-Polito Administration is in touch with local officials regarding the arrival of migrants in Martha’s Vineyard,” Governor’s Office Press Secretary Terry MacCormack said in a statement. “At this time, short-term shelter services are being provided by local officials, and the Administration will continue to support those efforts.”
Earlier today, 7NEWS saw a Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) van prepared to board a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, indicating that the agency might consider this a crisis.
Desantis recently commented on the situation.
“If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” said Desantis. “We will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”
Activists call for an investigation into Gov. Ron Desantis
The decision to send the group of migrants with no notice has sparked outrage with Florida advocate groups who work with undocumented migrants, some calling for an investigation into Desantis’ actions.
Leaders from the Venezuelan community in Miami called a news conference and they were sharply critical of Desantis.
“We are here today to tell Governor Desantis that he has to stop,” said Adelys Ferro, the director of the Venezuelan American Caucus. “We demand him to stop using our pain, our suffering and our desperation for his political gains.”
Many activists said they’re concerned for the welfare of the Venezuelan immigrants dropped off in Massachusetts at an island where appropriate services may not be available.
“Let us be clear AB [American Business Immigration Coalition] condemns such senseless and cruel trafficking of asylum seekers and migrants,” said Maria Corina Vegas of the American Business Immigration Coalition. “This is a new low, even for this governor [Desantis].”
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