MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Mass., Sept 15 (Reuters) – Some migrants who were airlifted to the wealthy island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, said on Thursday they had been duped about their destination, and Democratic leaders called for an investigation into the Florida Republican’s decision. governor to send them there from Texas.
In what the White House and residents of the holiday enclave called a “political stunt”, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took credit for both flights. Tracking website FlightAware said they were from San Antonio, Texas.
A Martha’s Vineyard airport official said the planes were carrying around 50 migrants, mostly Venezuelans.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
A Venezuelan migrant who identified himself as Luis, 27, said he and nine relatives were promised a flight to Massachusetts, as well as shelter, support for 90 days, help with permits to work and English lessons. He said they were surprised when their flight landed on an island.
He said the pledges came from a woman who went by the name “Perla” who approached her family on the street outside a San Antonio shelter after crossing into Mexico and U.S. border officials released them with a date in immigration court.
He said the woman, who also put them up at a hotel, did not provide a surname or affiliation, but asked them to sign a liability waiver.
“We are scared,” he said, adding that he and others felt they had been lied to. “I hope they help us.”
Residents of Martha’s Vineyard, a small island south of Boston, stepped up to help confused migrants and offered housing at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, which is sometimes used as a homeless shelter in the winter.
Martha’s Vineyard is best known as a summer retreat populated mostly by well-to-do liberal Americans, including former President Barack Obama, a Democrat who owns a multimillion-dollar vacation home there.
Residents stopped to offer migrants cash donations and children’s toys, while lawyers rallied to offer free legal aid. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is considering creating a temporary shelter on nearby Cape Cod.
“It’s a stunt to make political points and not worry about who gets hurt,” said Mike Savoy, 58, a nurse at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
DeSantis, who is seeking re-election in November and has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2024, told a press conference that US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, ‘refused to lift a finger’ to secure the border.
“We’ve been working on innovative ways to be able to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden’s border policies,” he said.
Since this spring, Republican governors in Texas and Arizona have ferried thousands of migrants from the border to Democratic strongholds such as Washington, DC, New York and Chicago.
On Thursday, two buses sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, another Republican in the process of being re-elected, dropped off migrants in a Washington DC neighborhood not far from the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. Volunteers awaiting their arrival at another location said they were not notified.
Biden, speaking at an event hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, accused Republicans of “playing politics with human beings, using them as props.”
Several Democrats, including Charlie Crist, DeSantis’ opponent in Florida, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, called on federal authorities to investigate the incident, saying it showed a lack of humanity.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins told a news conference her office would “review this matter” and speak with the Justice Department.
The use of Florida resources to move migrants from Texas to Massachusetts raises legal issues, including what information was given to migrants before they boarded the planes and whether they were coerced, Reuters said. Reuters immigration law expert Pratheepan Gulasekaram of Santa Clara University School of Law.
The Florida legislature has allocated $12 million to transport migrants from the state to other locations, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in a statement.
US border agents made 1.8 million arrests of migrants at the US-Mexico border during this fiscal year, which began last October. Many have crossed repeatedly and are quickly deported to Mexico or other countries under a public health rule put in place in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and other migrants cannot be deported because Mexico will not accept them or because they have been granted exceptions to the deportation order and are allowed to enter the United States to make asylum claims. Read more
Many migrants who are released from US detention in border states seek to move elsewhere to join relatives or find employment. They often have to register with US immigration authorities or attend court hearings to obtain legal status.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by 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; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Aurora Ellis and David Gregorio
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.