Florida Flies 2 Planeloads of Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard

Florida Flies 2 Planeloads of Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard

About 50 migrants unexpectedly arrived by plane on Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, local officials said, escalating a tactic in which Republican-led states have shipped busloads of migrants to liberal bastions like Washington and New York to protest the significant rise in illegal immigration under President Biden.

The migrant group, which included children, arrived on two planes around 3 p.m. without any warning, said State Senator Julian Cyr, a Democrat representing Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Officials and volunteers from the island’s six towns “really moved heaven and earth to essentially set up the response that we would do in the event of a hurricane,” he said.

As the migrants received Covid-19 tests, food and clothing, there was confusion on the ground about who had sent them to Martha’s Vineyard, a popular getaway for the moneyed and powerful. Migrants said they had started the day in San Antonio, but it was the Florida governor’s office that took responsibility.

Taryn M. Fenske, the communications director for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, said the two flights were part of a state program to transport undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary destinations. This year the Florida Legislature set aside $12 million for the transportation program.

“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,” Ms. Fenske said in a statement.

One of the migrants, who asked to be identified only as Leonel, said in Spanish that the people of Martha’s Vineyard were generous and that he “had never seen anything like it.” They gave him a pair of shoes.

“I haven’t slept well in three months,” Leonel said. “It’s been three months since I put on a new pair of pants. Or shoes.”

Leonel, 45, said he had left Venezuela for the United States about three months ago, crossing the roadless Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama and making his way north through Central America and Mexico. He made it across the Rio Grande on his second attempt.

Leonel spent several days in immigration detention before being released in San Antonio, where he and other migrants were eventually told they could get passage to Massachusetts. They agreed.

Terry MacCormack, the press secretary for Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, said in a statement that his administration was in communication with local island officials, who were providing “short-term shelter services” to the migrants.

The migrants received basic relief services at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services in Oak Bluffs before being taken across the street to the regional high school and eventually to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown.

The Rev. Chip Seadale said St. Andrew’s had decided to take in the migrants for the night after learning that they had nowhere to go. A parishioner had reached out to him, knowing that the church helps house homeless people in the winter.

The island’s sole homeless shelter does not operate during the summer and has room for 10 people, with one bathroom, said Barbara Rush, the warden at St. Andrew’s. “Fifty people with no homes is an overwhelming number for the size of the community,” she said. “But this is a strong and capable community.”

While Martha’s Vineyard is known as the summer destination for the rich and powerful — President Barack Obama has a home on the island — the year-round population of about 20,000 faces a shortage of affordable housing. The migrants are arriving just at the end of the summer season, when seasonal work has ended.

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican with presidential ambitions, has repeatedly bashed the federal government for transporting migrants to Florida and has threatened to send them to liberal enclaves instead. He has frequently mentioned Mr. Biden’s home state of Delaware as a possible destination.

Mr. DeSantis’s lieutenant governor, Jeanette M. Núñez, a Cuban American, faced political heat last month from Democrats in Miami, her hometown, when she said in a Spanish-language radio interview that Cuban migrants illegally crossing the border from Mexico should be bused out of state.

Mr. DeSantis told reporters last month that Florida had not yet relocated migrants because a similar program in Texas had “taken a lot of pressure off us.” Texas has sent at least 6,200 migrants to the nation’s capital this year, but the governor’s office said on Wednesday that it was not involved in the flights.

Mr. Cyr, the Massachusetts state senator, criticized the motive behind the flights. “This is a cruel ruse that manipulates families that are seeking a better life,” he said, adding, “Our community has been targeted, clearly.”

J. David Goodman and Michael Levenson contributed reporting.

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