Why Planes Carrying Migrants Landed in Martha’s Vineyard

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized two charter planes to fly about 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard—a move that came as a shock to the Martha’s Vineyard community who didn’t initially know who sent them, according to local authorities

“Our island jumped into action putting together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the children, making sure people have the healthcare and support they need. We are a community that comes together to support immigrants,” Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted about the arrivals.

The governor’s move escalates a trend in the GOP of shuttling busloads of migrants to self-proclaimed sanctuaries like New York and Washington D.C. because he believes “every community in America should be sharing in the burden,” especially ones that support open-border policies, DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday. The decision serves as a protest to President Biden’s immigration policies, which are considerably more lenient than former President Trump’s.

Here’s what to know.

Was it a disaster when migrants arrived in the country?

The migrants received Covid-19 tests, food and hygiene items upon landing, but the island’s resources are limited. The New York Times reports that the majority of the migrants are from Venezuela and few speak English. They have since been moved to a church in an island. CBS Boston reports that the migrants wandered about three miles to reach their destination before meeting up with locals. To communicate with migrants, local high schoolers fluent in Spanish were hired as translators.

“Town Emergency Management Operations from the six Island towns and the Sheriff’s Office, as well as County Management are actively collaborating to develop a coordinated regional response,” the Island Wide Regional Emergency Management said in a statement on Wednesday. “Two emergency shelters have been established at local Island churches, with additional space available in case further arrivals occur. We have reached out to our State and Federal partners for additional and long term support and assistance.”

Martha’s Vineyard is a popular vacation destination in New England with a year-round population of only 20,000. The island’s lone homeless shelter doesn’t operate in the summer and has a capacity of 10 people, the New York Times reported. Geographically isolated, the island does not offer comparable immigration services as cities that advertise themselves to be sanctuaries or have an immigration court for asylum hearings.

Ron DeSantis as Ron DeSantis

The Florida state legislature approved $12 million in spending this year to transport undocumented migrants to so-called sanctuaries,, and the two planes to Martha’s Vineyard were a part of this program, according to Fenske, the New York Times reported.

“We take what’s happening at the southern border very seriously,” DeSantis said on Thursday. “We’ve worked on innovative ways to be able to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden’s border policies.”

DeSantis touted how popular a destination Florida is for Americans, tourists and illegal immigrants, “We are just the one state that everybody wants to come to,” DeSantis said.

The migrants lured to Martha’s Vineyard were residing in San Antonio, not Florida, NPR reports, which raises questions if DeSantis’ plan was purely a political statement. NPR heard from some migrants that they were approached in San Antonio by a woman who claimed she could fly them to Boston and get their expedited work papers.

“We are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” Desantis said. “The chance that they come to Florida goes down dramatically.”

Massachusetts: Is it a sanctuary state?

There’s no set legal definition of what makes a sanctuary jurisdiction, however, about 11 states and more than 180 cities throughout the country, predominantly in liberal areas such as the northeast and northwest, self-identify as “sanctuaries” who welcome undocumented immigrants because of their lack of cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

2017 Massachusetts High Court ruled that Massachusetts police cannot arrest people suspected of illegally being present in the U.S. unless they are facing criminal charges. This law allowed for the acceptance of migrants into the state. Boston, along with a few other nearby towns, have led the charge in identifying Massachusetts and Massachusetts as sanctuary areas, more than small-town or rural Massachusetts.

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