Migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard were voluntarily taken to military base for help, officials say

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CNN

The 50 migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts by the Florida governor this week were taken to a military base on Friday to receive shelter and humanitarian support, officials said.

The migrants, after two days of uncertainty on the small island and a great local effort to support themselves, cheered Friday morning when told they would be taken to Joint Base Cape Cod.

The migrants had been flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday under arrangements made by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – part of a series of moves by Republican governors to ferry migrants to liberal enclaves to protest what they say are insufficient federal security efforts at the southern border.

Martha’s Vineyard was not expecting the group, and DeSantis’ decision was strongly denounced by the White House, migrant advocates and Democratic officials.

At a church where they were staying on Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants cheered Friday morning when they heard the Massachusetts government would shelter them at the Cape Cod military base. They boarded the government-organized buses of their own free will, officials said, and arrived at the military installation on Friday afternoon.

Joint Base Cape Cod — already a designated emergency shelter by the state’s emergency management agency — is set up to provide “safe temporary accommodations tailored to the needs of families and individuals,” the office said. from Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in a press release.

Migrants “will be accommodated in dormitory-like spaces at the JBCC, with separate spaces that can accommodate both individuals and families”, and families will not be separated, he said. They will have access to services including legal services, healthcare, food, hygiene kits and crisis counseling, according to Baker’s office.

At the base, some of the migrants from Venezuela received general information about US immigration laws, according to a migrant who spoke to CNN. At this time, CNN is unable to verify exactly what was shared or from whom due to lack of access.

Meanwhile, a group of civil rights lawyers working with migrants said their stories were “heartbreaking – and infuriating”. Many migrants went to a hospital in need of treatment when they arrived on the island on Wednesday.

Some of those migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard even though they have immigration hearings scheduled nowhere near Massachusetts, the group said. Migrants released from government custody often move to other cities in the United States during their immigration process.

“This cowardly political stunt has put our clients at risk,” the Lawyers for Civil Rights group said in a press release Friday. “Some now have immigration hearings as early as Monday thousands of miles away.”

Some lawyers from the group accompanied the migrants on buses to the Cape Cod base.

CNN has reached out to Baker’s office and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency for comment, as they coordinate efforts to care for migrants at the base.

Although the governor of Florida said he organized the flights, the migrants were in Texas, not Florida.

Wednesday’s flights originated from San Antonio, Texas, according to Martha Vineyard Airport Manager Geoffrey Freeman.

For months, DeSantis has been talking about his plans to involve Florida in redirecting migrants from the southern border in a way that maximizes heartburn for Democratic leaders. And last month, DeSantis telegraphed that Florida could help move migrants from the US-Mexico border – not from his state.

“We have money to be able to do (this), but it’s coming from people on the southern border, it’s not going inside Florida,” DeSantis said at a press conference in August.

His administration secured $12 million from the state budget to pay for the resettlement of migrants, and he repeatedly threatened to use the money to send them to liberal strongholds.

When outlining his immigration plans at a press conference in December, DeSantis teased Martha’s Vineyard as a potential destination, saying, “It’s a little ironic, but it’s true, if you sent to Delaware or Martha’s Vineyard or some of those places, the border would be secure the next day.

Migrants from Martha's Vineyard boarded three buses Friday heading to Joint Base Cape Cod.

At a Friday press conference in Daytona Beach, DeSantis said he intends to use “every penny” of the $12 million and expect more buses and “probably more” flights. with migrants paid by Florida.

“These are just the first efforts,” he said. The governor has defended using taxpayers’ money to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard because he said many people crossing the border end up in his state.

State budget records show that six days before the migrants were to be airlifted to Massachusetts, the Florida Department of Transportation paid $615,000 to Destin, Fla.-based aviation company Vertol Systems. as part of the governor’s program to relocate migrants.

The budget records do not detail the type of “contracted services” Vertol provided to the department, nor is it clear whether the $615,000 was for two flights to Martha’s Vineyard. Additional budget documents obtained by CNN also show that the state first requested the payment on September 7.

CNN contacted Vertol Systems, the Department of Transportation and DeSantis’ office but did not immediately receive a response.

A Venezuelan migrant is taken to a bus in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard on Friday.

Migrants on Wednesday’s planes were unaware they were being specifically taken to Martha’s Vineyard, according to the legal group helping them.

They were enticed to board the planes with “representations for labor relief and immigration relief in Boston,” the Lawyers for Civil Rights group said in a press release.

“In midair, they were informed that they were not going to Boston after all, but to Martha’s Vineyard. They were dropped on the island without notifying anyone in the community,” the press release read.

During his press conference on Friday, the Florida governor disputed that the migrants did not know where they were going, as he said they had signed a waiver and received a package including a map of Martha’s Vineyard adding: “Obviously that’s where they were going. and everything was “voluntary”.

Two of the migrants told CNN, while in San Antonio, they decided to make the trip after two women and a man approached them on the streets near a migrant resource center.

One of the migrants, Wilmer Villazana, said he was put up in a hotel for five days before the flights and was well taken care of. The women told him they were from Orlando and worked for private organizations that raise money to help migrants, Villazana said.

One of the women told Villazana and the other migrant, Yang Pablo Mora, that they would get help finding housing and jobs once they reached their destination, Villazana and Mora said.

Villazana and Mora were unaware the flights were heading to Martha’s Vineyard, they said. Villazana thought they were going to Boston, he said.

DeSantis’ decision to organize the flight of migrants to Massachusetts was one of two high profile transports sent north by southern Republican governors this week. On Thursday, two migrant buses sent from Texas by Governor Greg Abbott arrived outside the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in the nation’s capital.

Texas began transporting migrants to Washington this spring. Republican Arizona Governor Doug Ducey followed suit, and both states have since sent thousands of migrants to Washington. Abbott expanded the Texas effort to include New York and Chicago.

The White House on Thursday denounced the actions taken this week by DeSantis and Abbott. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused governors of using migrants as “political pawns” and said their actions constituted a “cruel and premeditated political coup”.

Massachusetts U.S. attorney Rachael Rollins will speak with Justice Department officials about DeSantis sending the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, though she doesn’t yet have enough information to say whether he has breaking the laws by doing so, she told reporters on Thursday.

Despite Wednesday’s unexpected arrivals at Martha’s Vineyard, some islanders have been working quickly to provide some key services. The island is known to be a summer paradise for the wealthy.

“Our island has sprang into action by bringing together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the kids, making sure people have the healthcare and support they need. need,” said Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat who represents the island. , wrote on Twitter. “We are a community that comes together to support immigrants.

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