The group of migrants airlifted to Martha’s Vineyard this week are being moved to a better equipped military base to house them temporarily, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) announced on Friday.
About 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, as well as basic necessities, food, access to health care and crisis counseling services in their native language.
Up to 125 members of the Massachusetts National Guard will be activated to assist the group, Baker said.
His Florida counterpart, Governor Ron DeSantis (R), claimed responsibility for the political stunt, which was aimed at highlighting increased migration along the US southern border. However, the migrants arrived in the United States via Texas, not Florida, raising questions about the legality of the situation.
Although the decision seemed to delight DeSantis supporters, it was strongly criticized by elected Democrats and much of the public. Critics said the thefts constituted human trafficking and saw cruelty in using desperate people to make a political point. It emerged that DeSantis was trying to raise his national profile ahead of a possible presidential campaign; an official said DeSantis hired a videographer to capture footage from the trip.
The migrants had been told on Wednesday that they would be heading to Boston, according to NPR, who spoke to several people in the group. They told the outlet that a woman named “Perla” told them they would receive expedited work papers, an outright lie.
Instead, they ended up on Martha’s Vineyard, an island community used as a summer retreat for wealthy East Coasters. When they landed in two private planes on the island, they only had a brochure for a local community center, the Cape Cod Times reported.
“We got on the plane with a vision for the future, to do it,” Andres Duarte, 30, told NPR. “Look, when you don’t have any money and someone offers to help you, well, that means a lot.”
DeSantis had not told any local official to wait for the migrants. The group walked about two miles from the track to the community center.
Islanders quickly stepped in to help, setting up beds in a church and preparing meals. Teenage Spanish AP students were brought in to help translate for the migrants, most of whom were from Venezuela and said their flights took off from San Antonio, Texas. The Cape Cod Times said a woman brought her yellow lab, Gracie, to comfort the migrants.
“We are grateful to the vendors, volunteers and local officials who have stepped up to Martha’s Vineyard over the past few days to provide immediate services to these individuals,” Baker said in a statement Friday. “Our administration has worked across the state government to develop a plan to ensure these people have access to the services they need in the future, and Joint Base Cape Cod is well equipped to meet those needs. ”
As they left Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants received 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 a southern border immigration policy under former President Donald Trump that separated children from their parents.
In recent years, Republican lawmakers have resorted to inhumane measures to discourage migrants from seeking refuge at the US border. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, both Republicans, began busing migrants from their states to so-called northern ‘sanctuaries’ to create headaches logistics for Democratic officials and voters. Buses arrived in Chicago, Washington, DC and New York.