Migrants who were flown to the wealthy US island of Martha’s Vineyard this week in what critics have denounced as a “cruel political stunt” by Republican lawmakers are being moved to a military base, Massachusetts state officials announced.
Approximately 50 migrants, including about half a dozen children, boarded buses on Friday to head to the ferry to Cape Cod, where Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said they would be housed temporarily at Joint Base Cape Cod.
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They will be given dormitory-style housing, food and services, including healthcare and access to counselling, Baker said in a statement, adding that 125 National Guard members will be activated to assist in the relief effort.
“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,” the Republican governor said.
The move left some of the Martha’s Vineyard residents who volunteered to shelter the migrants in a church for two nights in tears.
“I want them to have a good life,” said Lisa Belcastro, who helped organise cots and supplies at St Andrews Episcopal Church, which sits among expensive white-clapboard homes in Edgartown.
“I want them to come to America and be embraced. They all want to work.”
The group was flown to Martha’s Vineyard without warning on Wednesday night as part of an escalating effort by Republican governors to call attention to what they view as US President Joe Biden’s failure to secure the US-Mexico border amid record attempted crossings.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for re-election in November, has taken credit for transporting the migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, though the legal basis for the Florida government to round up migrants in a different state remained unclear.
The migrants said they had recently been admitted into the United States on a fast-tracked permit known as humanitarian parole after fleeing Venezuela and had been staying at a shelter in San Antonio, Texas.
Rachel Self, a Boston immigration lawyer who gave legal assistance to some of the migrants, said they had been lured onto planes under false pretences.
“They were told there was a surprise present for them and that there would be jobs and housing waiting for them when they arrived,” Self told reporters during a news conference on Thursday.
NEW: Immigration attorney Rachel Self is here at St. Anthony’s Church on Martha’s Vineyard and has been interviewing Venezuelan migrants about how they got here. She calls the entire ordeal “kidnapping.” #WBZ pic.twitter.com/Rs5NfI49WP
— Kristina Rex (@KristinaRex) September 15, 2022
“This was obviously a sadistic lie,” she said.
“Not only did those responsible for this stunt know that there was no housing or employment awaiting the migrants, they also very intentionally chose not to call ahead to any single authority on Martha’s Vineyard so that even the most basic human needs arrangement could not be made.”
The White House called the episode a “cruel, premeditated political stunt” by Republican leaders.
“Why else would Governor DeSantis have spent the time to charter a flight to take migrants out of a different state … hire a videographer to capture footage of that flight, but not bother to let Massachusetts authorities know that migrant children in need of food and shelter were about to land on their doorstep?” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.
She added that the Republican governors of Texas and Florida are interested in creating “political theatre”, rather than finding solutions that would help migrant families.
The flights to Martha’s Vineyard follow a bussing scheme by the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona that has sent more than 10,000 migrants to the Democrat-controlled cities of Washington, DC, New York and Chicago since April.
On Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent two buses carrying approximately 100 migrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’s home in the US capital.
Immigration is a key concern for Republican voters, and the party has sought to focus attention on the issue in the run-up to the November 8 midterm elections that will decide control of Congress and key governorships.