Residents of the Massachusetts resort community of Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday immediately rallied to ensure dozens of South American migrants had clothing, shelter, and food after they arrived on the island without warning—and without any idea where they had been taken—as part of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis's program for the "transportation" of refugees and undocumented immigrants.
About 50 migrants, reportedly from Venezuela and Colombia, boarded a plane in San Antonio Wednesday and were told they would "receive housing and jobs immediately upon arrival" at their destination, Massachusetts state Rep. Dylan Fernandes told The Vineyard Gazette, but the community was not informed of the plan.
Soon after the two planes brought the migrants to Martha's Vineyard Airport, local restaurants, schools, and community groups were among those joining the impromptu effort to provide care for the group.
The migrants were given "basic relief services" at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services in the town of Oak Bluffs, according to the Gazette, before being taken to Martha's Vineyard Regional High School where they were given food and water as teachers and students offered help with interpretation. The group spent the night at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.
A Venezuelan refugee identified as Leonel told The New York Times that he "had never seen anything like" the community effort in Martha's Vineyard, adding that he had been given new clothing by community members following his journey across Central America, Mexico, and the Rio Grande.
"It's been three months since I put on a new pair of pants," Leonel told the Times. "Or shoes."
DeSantis' office took credit for orchestrating the flights that brought the migrants to Martha's Vineyard, with a spokesperson telling the Times, "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."
The Florida governor has joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, in sending immigrants to heavily Democratic cities and states in what critics including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) denounced Wednesday as a "cruel stunt."
Despite DeSantis' efforts to use the migrants as what one Democratic organizer called "political props," the local chapter of Indivisible reported that residents were happy to welcome the group, some of whom had traveled to the U.S. by foot.
"We are a caring and compassionate community and will not resort to the depravity of the extremist Republicans who think dumping people off like garbage is deserving of a victory lap," said the group.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director for the American Immigration Council, praised the community for showing "a lot more moral strength than the people responsible" for sending the migrants to Massachusetts.
He added that the allegations that migrants were erroneously told they would have access to jobs and housing at their destination could amount to "fraud," and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
Florida officials appear to have lured the migrants, Reichlin-Melnick said, "with a promise of a trip from the border that they didn't have to pay for, then dropped them off in a deliberately inconvenient place."
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