The roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Wednesday were then transported to Cape Cod on Friday, where they will have access to food, shelter and emergency services, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said.
The migrants were due to be brought to an emergency shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, which served as an alternative medical care site during the Covid-19 pandemic, and as a shelter for displaced Louisiana residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“We are grateful to the providers, volunteers and local officials that stepped up on Martha’s Vineyard over the past few days to provide immediate services to these individuals,” Baker, a Republican, said in a statement. “Our administration has been working across state government to develop a plan to ensure these individuals will have access to the services they need going forward, and Joint Base Cape Cod is well equipped to serve these needs.”
The migrants’ arrival on Martha’s Vineyard came as a surprise to the island community, known as a popular vacation spot for the wealthy and political elite, including former President Barack Obama. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, later confirmed he was behind the move.
Although their travel to Massachusetts was facilitated by DeSantis, the migrants who arrived on Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday came from Texas. The DeSantis administration paid an aviation company, Vertol Systems Company Inc., $615,000 to transport the migrants from San Antonio to the exclusive vacation enclave. The Republican-led Florida Legislature had previously approved $12 million to go toward moving migrants out of Florida to other states, a fact DeSantis highlighted during a press conference at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Friday.
“The legislature gave me $12 million, we are going to spend every penny of that to make sure that we’re protecting the people in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
Taryn Fenske, communications director for DeSantis, said on Friday: “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.”
Upon arrival, many of the migrants said they did not know where they were and some said they had been misled with the promise of expedited work permits and other support. DeSantis disputed this on Friday, saying the migrants boarded the planes voluntarily after signing release forms, and that they were handed packets with maps of Martha’s Vineyard, “so it was obvious that that’s where they were going.”
President Joe Biden condemned the move, calling it a “political stunt.”
“Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props. What they’re doing is simply wrong,” he said Thursday at a gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
At her Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was critical of DeSantis and Greg Abbott, another Republican governor who has bussed migrants in the U.S. from Texas to cities including Washington, New York and Chicago. Those governors, Jean-Pierre said, “treated [the migrants] like chattel in a cruel, premeditated political stunt.”
In an appearance on Fox News Friday, Abbott defended his actions, saying, “What we’ve done in the state of Texas is follow the law to the T to make sure that everything that we’ve done comports with the federal law. We receive written authorization by everybody that we transport that they agree to exactly what we are doing.”
Jean-Pierre struck a sharply different tone. “These are the kinds of tactics we see from smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala. And for what? A photo-op?” she said. “Because these governors care more about creating political theater than creating actual solutions to help.”
She also called on Republicans to support Biden’s immigration reform bill, which has floundered in Congress.
Gary Fineout contributed to this report.
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