The roughly 50 migrants who were flown by the Florida governor this week to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts were transported to a military base on Friday for shelter and humanitarian assistance, officials said.
The migrants cheered after two days of uncertainty on the small island and a major local effort to care for them on Friday morning when they were told they would be taken to Joint Base Cape Cod.
The migrants were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday following arrangements by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — part of a series of moves by Republican governors to ship migrants to liberal enclaves to protest what they say is inadequate federal efforts to keep the southern border secure to protest .
Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t expecting the group, and DeSantis’ move drew harsh condemnation from the White House, migrant advocates and Democratic officials.
At a church where they stayed on Martha’s Vineyard, migrants cheered on Friday morning when they heard the Massachusetts government would house them at the Cape Cod military base. They willingly boarded government-arranged buses, officials said, and they arrived at the military facility on Friday afternoon.
Joint Base Cape Cod — already an emergency shelter designated by the state’s Emergency Management Agency — is designed to “provide secure temporary housing that meets the needs of families and individuals,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said in a news release.
The migrants “will be housed in dormitories at the JBCC, with separate rooms that can accommodate both individuals and families,” and families will not be separated, it said. According to Baker’s office, they have access to services such as legal, health, food, hygiene kits and crisis counseling.
A group of civil rights lawyers working with the migrants said their stories were “heartbreaking – and upsetting”. Many of the migrants went to a nursing home on arrival on the island on Wednesday.
Some of those migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard despite not having scheduled immigration hearings anywhere near Massachusetts, the group said. Migrants released from state custody often relocate to other U.S. cities while going through their immigration processes.
“This cowardly political stunt has put our clients at risk,” the group Lawyers for Civil Rights said in a press release Friday. “Some have immigration hearings thousands of miles away as early as Monday.”
Some lawyers from the group accompanied the migrants on the buses to the Cape Cod base.
Although the Florida governor says he arranged the flights, the migrants were in Texas — not Florida.
Flights took off from San Antonio, Texas on Wednesday, according to Martha Vineyard Airport Director Geoffrey Freeman.
For months, DeSantis has been talking about his plans to include Florida in diverting migrants from the southern border to maximize heartburn for Democratic leaders. And last month, DeSantis cabled Florida if he could help move migrants off the US-Mexico border — not out of his state.
“We have money to be able to do (that), but that’s coming from people on the southern border, that’s not going into interior Florida,” DeSantis said at a news conference in August.
His government secured $12 million in the state budget to pay for migrant resettlement and he has repeatedly threatened to use the money to send them to liberal strongholds.
Outlining his immigration plans at a December news conference, DeSantis teased Martha’s Vineyard as a potential destination, saying, “It’s kind of ironic, but it’s true if you send[them]to Delaware or Martha’s Vineyard or some of those places, that would be the.” Border safe next day.”
In a Friday news conference in Daytona Beach, DeSantis said he intends to use “every penny” of the $12 million and set the expectation for more buses and “probably more” flights carrying migrants paid for by Florida.
“These are just the first efforts,” he said. The governor defended using taxpayer money to send the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, saying many of the people crossing the border end up in his state.
State budget records show that six days before the migrants were flown to Massachusetts, the Florida Department of Transportation paid $615,000 to Destin, Fla.-based airline company Vertol Systems as part of the governor’s migrant relocation program.
Budget records do not indicate what type of “contracted services” Vertol provided to the department, nor is it clear if the $615,000 was for two flights to Martha’s Vineyard. Additional budget documents obtained by CNN also show that the state first requested payment on Sept. 7.
CNN reached out to Vertol Systems, the Department of Transportation, and the DeSantis office, but did not immediately receive a response.
The migrants on Wednesday’s planes didn’t know they were being taken specially to Martha’s Vineyard, according to the rights group that was helping them.
They were tricked into boarding the planes with “employment assistance and immigration assistance offices in Boston,” the civil rights advocacy group said in a news release.
“Mid-flight they were told they were going to Martha’s Vineyard instead of Boston. They were dropped off on the island without anyone in the community being notified,” the release said.
In his press conference on Friday, the Florida governor denied the migrants didn’t know where they were going because he said they signed a waiver and received a package with a map of Martha’s Vineyard, adding: “It’s obvious that they went there”, and it was all “voluntarily”.
Two of the migrants told CNN they decided to make the trip while in San Antonio after two women and a man approached them on the street near a migrant assistance center.
One of the migrants, Wilmer Villazana, said he was accommodated in a hotel for five days before the flights and was well taken care of. The women told him they are from Orlando and work for private organizations that raise funds 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 arrived at their destination, Villazana and Mora said.
Villazana and Mora didn’t know the flights were going to Martha’s Vineyard, they said. Villazana thought they were going to Boston, he said.
DeSantis’ decision to arrange for the migrants to fly to Massachusetts was one of two high-profile transports sent north by Southern Republican governors this week. Two buses carrying migrants, sent by Gov. Greg Abbott from Texas, arrived in front of Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in the country’s capital on Thursday.
Texas began busing migrants into Washington this spring. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey followed suit, and the two states have since sent thousands of migrants to Washington. Abbott has expanded the effort from Texas to New York City and Chicago.
The White House on Thursday denounced DeSantis and Abbott’s moves this week. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused governors of using migrants as “political pawns” and said their actions were a “cruel, premeditated political ploy”.
U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins will speak with members of the Justice Department about DeSantis sending the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, though she doesn’t yet have enough information to say if he broke any laws in the process, she said she told reporters on Thursday.
Despite Wednesday’s unannounced arrival on Martha’s Vineyard, some residents of the island worked quickly to provide some essential services. The island is known for being a summer paradise for the rich.
“Our island jumped into action by putting together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the kids, and making sure people got the medical care and support they need,” said the Massachusetts state representative, Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat representing the island, wrote on Twitter. “We are a community that comes together to support immigrants.”