After dozens of migrants arrived in Martha’s Vineyard near Cape Cod, some described grueling journeys to the U.S. and feelings of uncertainty after becoming part of a national spectacle.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for flying the group of about 50 to the liberal enclave, part an escalating battle between Republican governors and the White House over immigration.
Carlos Muños said he journeyed from Venezuela to give his four-year-old son the things he didn’t have — a meaningful education, the freedom to express his opinions without fear of persecution, a job where he can earn enough money to afford food.
Muños, who was studying electrical engineering before Venezuela’s economic collapse halted his studies, said he wants to go back to school and dreams that his son will also go to college some day.
“I want peace,” he said. “Tranquility.”
Muños is among a group of migrants, mostly from Venezuela, who arrived unexpectedly in Martha’s Vineyard after DeSantis chartered two flights. It’s the latest in a string of moves by GOP governors meant to surprise Democratic strongholds with large influxes of migrants.
As DeSantis vowed on Friday to continue the program, it has drawn a firestorm of criticism from opponents, including President Joe Biden, who accused DeSantis of “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.”
Everlides Dela Hoz, a mother and grandmother, recalled the grueling journey to the U.S. during which she saw people in her group of travelers die from heart attacks, drowning and a snake bite.
After finding themselves in Martha’s Vineyard, many expressed feelings of uncertainty as they wondered what may come next for them. Others, promised jobs and housing, felt lied to.
“When we got on the plane, they told us they would give us jobs, a place to live, everything,” Dela Hoz said through a translator. “The whole group is pretty upset. But they did take us to a nice place.”
“I simply feel misled because they told a lie and it has come to nothing,” Pedro Luis Torrelaba, 36, said Friday.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration said it is “surging resources” to El Paso, Texas’ sixth-largest city, where homeless shelters are overwhelmed and migrants with nowhere else to go are sleeping in the streets.
Here’s what we know:
Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard speak out
The migrants were falsely told jobs and housing would be waiting for them when they arrived in Martha’s Vineyard, advocates and immigration attorneys said.
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Washington-based civil rights group, said the migrants were given red folders with fake documents promising jobs and housing.
“It was all just a terrible lie,” Garcia said, adding that he plans to file a complaint with the Department of Justice.
Many migrants arrived on the island with mandatory court dates and appointments with ICE in Texas, Washington, and D.C., some as early as Monday, according to Rachel Self, an immigration attorney who lives on Martha’s Vineyard. Self said the migrants were set up to fail.
“It could not be clearer that this is an attempt to ensure that these people are ordered removed, even as they try as hard as they can to comply with the instructions provided to them,” Self said.
U.S. officials told immigration attorneys that required check-ins would be postponed, said Julio Henriquez, an attorney who met with several migrants. Homeland Security officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Officials scramble to aid migrants, provide support at military base
Residents and state officials scrambled to provide housing, food and support for the migrants, who arrived on the Massachusetts island Wednesday.
Elizabeth Folcarelli, who leads Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, said she was finishing up work when she saw 48 strangers outside her office with luggage and backpacks.
As authorities figure out next steps for the migrants, they were given shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod, where dormitory-style accommodations, clothing, toiletry kits and food will be provided. Legal and health care services, including mental health and crisis counseling aid, will also be provided.
Gov. Charlie Baker said he would activate up to 125 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to assist.
What’s going on in Venezuela?
The Venezuelan migrants are among a global diaspora of millions of people who left the country to escape a depressed economy and a dictatorial regime amid power outages, lack of access to reliable water, skyrocketing inflation and political turmoil.
The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates there are now more than six million Venezuelan refugees and migrants worldwide with more than 950,000 estimated to be asylum seekers. Most go to Colombia, but tens of thousands have made their way to the U.S and other countries, according to the U.S. State Department website.
Why Martha’s Vineyard?
South of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard is an 87-square-mile island only accessible by plane or ferry. It also has a reputation as a liberal enclave.
As President Joe Biden decried the decision to fly the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, DeSantis said, “It’s only when you have 50 illegal aliens end up in very wealthy, rich enclave that (Biden) decides to scramble on this.”
Has this happened before?
Since April, Texas has bused about 8,000 migrants to Washington, including sending more than 100 on Thursday to Vice President Kamala Harris’s home. The state has also bused about 2,200 migrants to New York and 300 to Chicago.
Arizona has also sent more than 1,500 migrants to Washington since May.
Contributing: George Petras, Stephen J. Beard, Jennifer Borresen, Jeannette Hinkle, Heather McCarron, Sarah Carlon, Jeannette Hinkle and Celina Tebor, USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press