DeSantis Defends Move to Fly Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard was thrust into the national spotlight after the unexpected arrival of 48 undocumented migrants on the island last Wednesday when two planes carrying the migrants touched down at Martha’s Vineyard Airport in Edgartown. Island officials were not given prior notice of their arrival, leaving the community scrambling to accommodate them. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) claimed responsibility for chartering the planes, though the migrants come from Texas, not from Florida. The migrants were mostly Venezuelan and included families with children. 

The migrants were housed at the local Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church for two nights. Community services were unprepared for the sudden influx of people, but locals donated food, clothing, and toiletries. The Vineyard Gazette reported that the migrants were able to speak with immigration lawyers from off island with the assistance of translators, including local Spanish-speaking high school students.  

On Friday, the new arrivals were transferred to Joint Base Cape Cod, a military base in Bristol County. The Cape Cod Times reports that the migrants will be housed in the base’s dorms and families will be kept together. In the meantime, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is coordinating access to legal advice, health care, and counseling services. 

Democrats were quick to criticize DeSantis’ actions. Representative Dylan Fernandes (D-MA), who represents Martha’s Vineyard in the Massachusetts legislature, accused DeSantis of using the migrants as “political pawns” and trying to “create chaos.” President Biden called the move “un-American” and “reckless” and urged Senate Republicans to “come to the table” and collaborate on immigration reform, including the task of creating paths to citizenship. 

Amid criticism that DeSantis’ actions were inhumane, the Florida governor suggested that he is simply giving Democratic states a taste of their own medicine. At an event on September 15th, DeSantis placed blame on President Biden for taking inadequate steps to tighten border control and reversing Trump administration policies that limited immigration. He told the crowd that “Our message to them [migrants] is we are not a sanctuary state, and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction… we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.” DeSantis continued that illegal immigration strained the social services of southern states, remarking, “the minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk.” 

Migrants interviewed by NPR reported being approached by a woman in San Antonio, Texas and urged to get on a plane that they were told would be heading to Boston, where jobs and resources would be available to them. DeSantis has stated that the plan is part of an effort to identify migrants looking to come to Florida and divert them before they can arrive. The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) stated that he did not coordinate the charter planes with DeSantis’ office, however, the event does mirror a strategy Texas has been carrying out since April of 2022 by busing migrants to Democratic cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C. 

DeSantis’ move has put immigration issues back into the minds of Americans as the general election approaches in November, amidst a backdrop of other hot button issues such as inflation, abortion, and former President Donald Trump. As Democrats and Republicans spar for control over everything from local governments to the houses of Congress, DeSantis says he plans to fly more migrants to Democratic states. 

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