The group of migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard this week are being relocated to a military base that is better equipped to temporarily house them, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced Friday.
Around 50 men, women and children voluntarily boarded buses Friday morning that took them to a ferry to the mainland, where they were transported to Joint Base Cape Cod. Dormitory-style accommodations awaited them there, along with basic necessities, food, health care access and crisis counseling services in their native language.
Up to 125 Massachusetts National Guard members will be activated to assist the group, Baker said.
His Florida counterpart, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), claimed credit for the political stunt, which was aimed at highlighting the surge in migration along the southern U.S. border. However, the migrants arrived in the U.S. through Texas, not Florida, raising questions about the legality of the situation.
While the move appeared to delight DeSantis’ supporters, it was met with searing criticism from elected Democrats and swaths of the public. Critics said the flights amounted to human trafficking, and saw cruelty in using desperate people to make a political point. It appeared that DeSantis was attempting to raise his national profile in advance of a possible presidential campaign; one official said DeSantis hired a videographer to capture footage of the journey.
The migrants had been told Wednesday that they would be going to Boston, according to NPR, which spoke to several people in the group. They told the outlet a woman named “Perla” told them they would be given expedited work papers, a baldfaced lie.
Instead, they wound up on Martha’s Vineyard, an island community used as a summer retreat for wealthy East Coasters. When they landed in two privately chartered planes on the island, they had only a brochure for a local community center, the Cape Cod Times reported.
“We got on the plane with a vision of the future, of making it,” 30-year-old Andres Duarte told NPR. “Look, when you have no money and someone offers help, well, it means a lot.”
DeSantis had not told any local officials to expect the migrants. The group walked about two miles from the runway to the community center.
Residents of the island swiftly stepped in to help, setting up beds in a church and whipping up meals. Teenage AP Spanish students were brought in to help translate for the migrants, most of whom were originally from Venezuela and said their flights had taken off from San Antonio, Texas. The Cape Cod Times said that one woman brought her yellow lab, Gracie, to comfort the migrants.
“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 said in a statement Friday. “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.”
Upon leaving Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants were given supplies and new cell phones, The Washington Post reported from the scene.
“Families will not be separated,” the governor’s office said in a pointed reference to an immigration policy at the southern border under former President Donald Trump that split children from their parents.
In recent years, Republican elected officials have turned to inhumane measures in order to discourage migrants from seeking refuge at the U.S. border. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, have taken to busing migrants from their states to northern so-called “sanctuaries” to create logistical headaches for Democratic officials and voters. Buses have arrived in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City.