MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Mass. – Florida’s governor is getting praise and heat for sending two planes full of migrants to an island in Massachusetts.
State officials there say they weren’t given any notice and had to scramble to help the stranded passengers, most of whom don’t speak English.
“When these planes arrived, there was no heads up to the local community at all,” Dylan Fernandes, a democratic Massachusetts State Representative for the island.
Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, spoke Thursday morning about sending migrants on charter planes to Martha’s Vineyard and defended his decision. During a news conference in the Panhandle, he placed the blame on President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders for their policies.
A White House spokeswoman called it a “political stunt” and said it was “horrific” and “shameful.”
AP photographs show 50 migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, a small, luxury resort island in Massachusetts. They had been flown in on two charter jets, without notice, Wednesday afternoon, according to local officials.
“Think about the governor of Florida, one of the largest states in the nation, spending his time hatching a secret plot to ship up 50 immigrants here, families, children as young as 4, and use them as political pawns just so he could get on Tucker Carlson and beat his chest about how he’s tough on immigration,” Fernandes said.
DeSantis is taking credit for flying two planeloads of immigrants, many from Venezuela, into the area.
“Every community in America should be handling the burden it shouldn’t just fall on the red states,” DeSantis said as a crowd in the Florida panhandle cheered. “What would be best is for Biden to do his damn job and secure the border.”
Taryn Fenske, the governor’s communications director, first released a statement that confirmed the planes landed in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
“I can confirm the two planes with illegal immigrants that arrived in Martha’s Vineyard today were part of the state’s relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations,” she wrote. “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.”
Working with our affiliate stations, News4JAX found flights on a charter company called Ultimate Jet. Two Dornier 328 jets originated in San Antonio Texas, then landed in Crestview, Florida, north of Destin. From there, one stopped in South Carolina, another in North Carolina, before landing in Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday.
There, church and relief groups did what they could to give the unexpected migrants information, food and shelter.
“Martha’s Vineyard community services had 50 people sort of literally walk up to their front door,” said Barbara Rush with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. “Martha’s Vineyard is a really small community, our year-around population is about 20,000.”
DeSantis had mentioned he would take action against sanctuary states. The News4JAX I-TEAM reported in the spring about flights from the Biden administration passing through Florida, including Jacksonville International Airport, often in the dark of night.
“You have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state, and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures,” DeSantis said.
I-TEAM: Documents show 78 flights carrying migrants landed in Jacksonville over last 6 months
In recent weeks other Republican Governors have made moves similar to Florida’s. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Duvey have been busing immigrants from the Southern Border to Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC.
On Thursday morning, a caravan from Texas left dozens of migrants outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in D.C.
“The migrants, including children, who arrived in Martha’s Vineyard were misled about where they were being taken and what would be provided when they arrived, is also deeply alarming,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday afternoon. ”They deserve better than being left on the streets of DC or being left in Martha’s Vineyard.”
According to a report from NPR, the migrants said a woman lured them into boarding the plane after telling them they would be flown to Boston where they could get expedited work papers.
Hispanic American groups held a meeting in South Florida on Thursday to condemn DeSantis’ move, which they called inhumane. They said some of the migrants were fleeing the dictatorship of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whom DeSantis has repeatedly castigated.
“Our governor is using Florida taxpayer money to transport people from other states all for political talking points,” said Yareliz Mendez-Zamora with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
Maria Corina Vegas, Florida deputy state director for the American Business Immigration Coalition, called the immigrants’ transfer “morally repulsive,” noting that the flights took place the day before the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and accusing DeSantis of “trafficking” migrant children.
“As a Venezuelan-American myself, I was heartbroken. These are Venezuelan asylum seekers who are escaping the Maduro regime. This is a new low, even for this governor,” she said.
There could be more of this to come. Florida’s State Legislature appropriated $12 million to create a program that transports migrants to other states.
The budget item allowed the state agency to contract with a private company or reach an agreement with a federal agency to relocate immigrants.
DeSantis has highlighted the budget request in campaign speeches, drawing cheers from supporters when pledging to reroute undocumented immigrants to Biden’s home state of Delaware.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.