Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis saw Texas Gov. Greg Abbott getting ahead of him in the Republican sociopathy sweepstakes, and he was not having it. Abbott has spent $14 million busing migrants to Illinois, New York, and Washington, D.C., moving people around the country to make an ugly political point. DeSantis wanted to get in on the game, so he loaded 48 people onto planes and sent them to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
DeSantis has been using Martha’s Vineyard as a political foil for some time since it’s a summer vacation spot for prominent Democrats like former President Barack Obama. But it’s no longer really summer. The high-profile visitors are gone, and the people there now are the island’s 20,000 year-round residents. Having 48 migrants with absolutely no resources landing with absolutely no warning is a challenge—but it’s one the island met with compassion and care.
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Showing what a giant political stunt this is, while DeSantis quickly claimed responsibility, the migrants said they had started the day in San Antonio, Texas. He literally went to another state to get people to dump in an unfamiliar place that was not ready to provide them services. Migrants told NPR that a woman named “Perla” approached them at a shelter and lured them with a promise of expedited work papers available in Boston.
“They came with folders with a pamphlet with our information,” Beth Folcarelli, chief executive officer of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, told The Vineyard Gazette. “We don’t have refugee services, I had no idea about any of this. I only found out because one of them gave me their folder. Imagine being dropped in here knowing no one. Absolutely no one. It’s heartbreaking.”
The group of mostly Venezuelan migrants were then moved to the local high school cafeteria, then to a local church for the night, while local service providers and residents scrambled to meet their needs. “Everything from beds to food to clothing to toothbrushes, toothpaste, blankets, sheets. I mean, we had some of it ... but we did not have the numbers that we needed,” the head of the island’s single small homeless shelter told NPR.
High school Spanish students were called in to serve as interpreters. “I was home watching Princess Diana videos when my mom burst through the door and told me to go to the high school. I’m here because I’m a Hispanic kid who speaks Spanish,” high school senior Maria Sanchez Roa said.
Local elected officials were outraged. “Just like the reverse freedom rides in the 1960s, this endeavor is a cruel ruse that is manipulating families who are seeking a better life,” state Sen. Julian Cyr said. “No one should be capitalizing on the difficult circumstances that these families are in and contorting that for the purposes of a ‘gotcha’ moment.”
“We have the governor of Florida ... hatching a secret plot to send immigrant families like cattle on an airplane,” said state Rep. Dylan Fernandes. “Ship them women and children to a place they weren't told where they were going and never alerted local officials and people on the ground here that they were coming. It is an incredibly inhumane and depraved thing to do.”
Abbott isn’t giving up his edge over DeSantis in treating migrants as political pawns. He meanwhile sent two buses of migrants to the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.—the residence of the vice president.
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