MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Mass., September 15 (Reuters) – Some migrants flown to the affluent island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, said on Thursday they were misled about their destination and Democratic leaders called for an investigation into the move Florida’s Republican governor to send them there from Texas.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for re-election in November and is considered a possible presidential nominee in 2024, has credited the two flights, which started in San Antonio, Texas and stopped in Florida en route to Martha’s Vineyard .
The White House and residents of the vacation enclave called it a “political stunt” as DeSantis joins Republican governors from Texas and Arizona in sending migrants north. Governors have sought to highlight differences between the two parties on immigration policies and shift the burden of caring for immigrants to Democratic areas.
Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
For months, Texas and Arizona have been sending busloads of migrants to the Democrat-led cities of New York, Chicago and Washington.
Florida is now joining the campaign. Details of how the flights were arranged and paid for remain unclear, as does an explanation as to why Florida was moving migrants to Texas. Florida lawmakers have set aside $12 million to transport migrants out of the state to other places.
The two flights on Wednesday carried about 50 migrants, mostly Venezuelans, a Martha’s Vineyard Airport official said.
Hours after the planes landed, two buses carrying Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, another Republican facing re-election, dropped off migrants Thursday in a Washington neighborhood near Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence.
A Venezuelan migrant who arrived at Martha’s Vineyard identified himself as Luis, 27, and said he and nine relatives were promised a flight to Massachusetts, along with housing, support for 90 days, help with work permits and English classes. He said they were surprised when their flight landed on an island.
He said the promises came from a woman, who gave her name “Perla,” and approached his family on the street outside a San Antonio animal shelter after they crossed into Mexico and US border officials released them with an immigration court date .
He said the woman, who also put her up at a hotel, did not provide a last name or affiliation, instead asking her to sign a liability waiver.
“We’re scared,” he said, adding that he and others felt lied to. “I hope they give us help.”
Residents of Martha’s Vineyard rallied to help the confused migrants and offered shelter at St Andrews Episcopal Church.
Martha’s Vineyard is best known as a summer retreat populated primarily by wealthy liberal Americans, including former President Barack Obama, a Democrat who owns a multimillion-dollar vacation home there.
Locals stopped by to donate money and children’s toys, while lawyers mobilized to offer free legal aid.
“It’s a trick to make political points and not care about who gets hurt,” said Mike Savoy, 58, a registered nurse at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
DeSantis defended the flights, telling a news conference that Democratic US President Joe Biden “refused to lift a finger” to secure the border.
“We have been working on innovative ways to protect the state of Florida from the effects of Biden’s border policy,” DeSantis said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Republican governors are using migrants as “political pawns.”
Several Democrats, including DeSantis opponent in Florida Charlie Crist and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, have called on federal authorities to investigate.
US Attorney Rachael Rollins of Massachusetts said at a press conference that her office would “review this case” and speak with the Justice Department.
The US Department of Homeland Security last year developed a plan to fly migrants to inner cities in coordination with aid groups to ease pressure on border regions, a Biden administration official told Reuters, asking not to be identified to discuss internal planning discuss.
The White House never took up the idea, according to a second US official familiar with the matter.
Using Florida resources to ferry migrants from Texas to Massachusetts raises legal concerns, including what information was shared with the migrants before they boarded and whether they were coerced into it, said Pratheepan Gulasekaram, an expert in Immigration Law from Santa Clara University School of Law.
Since last October, US border officials have detained 1.8 million migrants at the US-Mexico border. Many are being quickly deported to Mexico or other countries under a public health regulation introduced in 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19.
But hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and others cannot be deported because Mexico refuses to take them in or because they can apply for asylum. Continue reading
Many migrants released from US custody in border states try to relocate elsewhere to join relatives or find work. They often need to check in with US immigration authorities or attend court hearings to gain legal status.
Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
reporting from Jonathan Allen in Martha’s Vineyard, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, Andrea Shalal and Mike Scarcella in Washington, Nate Raymond in Boston and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Edited by Mica Rosenberg, Aurora Ellis, David Gregorio and Gerry Doyle
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.