Updated September 15
A group 50 Venezuelan migrants, some of them children, landed on Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday. The migrants arrived by plane at Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
According to Geoff Freeman, airport director at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the name of the charter was Ultimate Air Charters. He said it was two planes that arrived at the airport and not one as was originally reported.
Fox News is reporting that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking credit for sending the migrants to the Island and shared video with that news outlet. In 2021, DeSantis vowed to spend $8 million to send immigrants out of the state and mentioned the Vineyard as a destination. His press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Freeman confirmed that one of the planes in the video being aired by Fox News is the plane that landed on the Vineyard.
The Times was told that the refugees arrived via Texas, but the situation has been fluid and there has been a lot of confusion surrounding today’s events. The Times was told it was a “company” that organized the flights providing individuals with some cell phone numbers before departing. Migrants used translation apps on those phones getting off the plane.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, arrived on the Island Wednesday evening and visited the St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, where the refugees are lodging, to assess the situation. “It appears that one if not many Republican governors or operatives chartered flights from the south to come and drop undocumented or documented, I’m not sure, immigrants on Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “These governors or whoever it is, all they care about is scoring some political points on Tucker Carlson and Fox News and the fact that they are using human lives — women, children, men — as pawns in that and just really abusing these people dropping them off in a place where they don’t know where they are with no food and water just to be able to get in Tucker Carlson and Fox News’s good graces is disgusting. It’s inhumane. These people claim to be Christians? This is about as unChristian a thing as you could be doing. It’s evil.”
State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, also railed against the political stunt. “This is deeply disgusting. This is a cruel ruse that manipulates families that are seeking a better life,” he said. He pointed out that these “fundamentally racist tactics” have been tried before. During the Civil Rights movement, segregationists tricked 95 Black families into moving to Hyannis. “And what happened is people in Hyannis helped the families and they stayed on Cape Cod,” Cyr said.
A spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker issued a statement late Wednesday evening. “The Baker-Polito Administration is in touch with local officials regarding the arrival of migrants in Martha’s Vineyard. At this time, short-term shelter services are being provided by local officials, and the Administration will continue to support those efforts.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, issued a statement criticizing what he called a “taxpayer-funded stunt” by DeSantis. “History does not look kindly on leaders who treat human beings like cargo, loading them up and sending them a thousand miles away without telling them their destination. Still, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made that choice today. Instead of working to find assistance for a group of refugees, he chose to turn them into political pawns,” Keating said. “Instead of trying to help them, he chose to charter a private jet and send them to a rural Island community late in the day and without warning so they wouldn’t have the resources at the ready to support them. But the people of Martha’s Vineyard, its vibrant immigrant community, and the Commonwealth as a whole are already calling Governor DeSantis’s bluff and rising to meet the challenge because that’s what Americans do — we help those in need. I applaud Governor Baker for his administration’s efforts to step up and assist these refugees despite the lack of notice of their impending arrival, and I am disgusted by Governor DeSantis’s decision to prioritize cruelty and chaos over human dignity in today’s taxpayer-funded stunt.”
Just after 5 pm Wednesday, outside Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden gathered the refugees and spoke to them.
“We’re going to take care of you,” Ogden said and his words were translated to the gathered crowd. “Get all your personal belongings together and then we’ll move. Does everyone have their personal belongings? We’re going to start moving you that way.”
The group was brought to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School where they were given snacks and shelter. Some children played outside using hula hoops.
“The most important thing is we get you food and shelter and water,” Ogden told them.
Provided with snacks, water, and temporary shelter, the refugees were kept at MVRHS until around 6:30 pm, when they were then transported via school bus to St. Andrews Church in Edgartown to spend the night.
According to Barbara Rush, representing the church in the absence of Pastor Chip Seadale — who answered the call from MVCS, and offered the church as refuge — the church can legally accomodate 80 persons.
With dozens of pies sent from Edgartown Pizza, the refugees were able to settle in, gathering inside the church after testing negative for COVID-19.
Dana Edelman of MVCS, who had spent hours making the rounds, working to “keep track,” of the group, and assessing any urgent needs of the refugees, said after speaking through numerous translators, “there’s been a lot of trauma.”
Some of them, Edelman said, have “been through a lot. Some of them have a long tale to tell.”
In his interactions with the refugees, he’s gathered a consensus. “Somebody sent them here, and they didn’t realize where they were going,” he said. The details of the transport and the various experiences remain unclear. Overall, he said, “they feel betrayed.”
Edelman emphasized that among the group, there are ”assorted narratives,” regarding their journey.
Later in the evening Mocha Motts arrived on the scene and provided coffee.
Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz told The Times there have been no reported medical issues.
Speaking through an interpreter, one of the migrants told The Times that they wanted to come to the Island and are seeking employment. Another migrant named Leonel told The Times through an interpreter that he has no idea where he is.
Schools superintendent Richie Smith told The Times the refugees are mostly men and women ranging in age from 25 to 35 years old. He said there are 10 to 12 children who are elementary age.
Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee said that the migrants have been split up between two buildings — single men in one and families in the other. “This is a short-term fix for now and right now we’re working on something more long term,” McNamee said.
Fernandes added that the state will do all it can to help. “Tomorrow we have to figure out a longer term game plan — make sure they have a longer established place to be long term,” he said. “We’ve always been an Island of immigrants. We saw how incredible it is; how the Island rallied to support everyone. We’re stronger because of immigrants. America is stronger because of immigrants, and we’re going to welcome them with open arms.”
Like Fernandes, Cyr praised the Island’s response. “The herculean response from first responders, MV Community Services, the sheriff and the churches show the spirit of who we are as a community,” he said.
Smith said he’s not sure that migrants know where they are. “I believe they know they came from Texas to here. I’m not sure all of them know they’re here in Massachusetts on an Island,” he said.
Dozens of volunteers are helping out. Two Spanish teachers helped with interpreting, as did members of the staff at MV Community Services, Smith said. There were even some high school kids helping out, he said.
St. Andrews has been set up with inflatable mattresses. He said the organizers will regroup in the morning to determine next steps.
During West Tisbury select board meeting on Wednesday, town administrator Jennifer Rand broke the news to the board about the immigrants that arrived on the Vineyard.
“I just wanted to give you a heads up that there’s a bit of a situation unfolding right now,” Rand said to the board. “Texas, Florida, and Alabama have begun flying planes with immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard and dropping them off and leaving.”
There has only been one plane that landed, though officials are expecting that others could arrive.
Rand told the board about the 50 immigrants who have already arrived on the Island, who she said will be heading to St. Andrews Church in Edgartown. “We understand that perhaps two more planes are coming with perhaps 50 or more people coming,” she said, saying she has been receiving “furious texts” while the meeting was happening. “I’m a little unclear about the situation, as is everybody because everybody is scrambling a bit.”
The issue of where to house the immigrants is being discussed while “a larger plan is being considered,” according to Rand. With the uncertainty of how many more are arriving, Rand said a possible place to house them for the night is the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s hall. Rand said the hall is not a long term plan because it is a place without beds or showers. She also said food may be an issue because the Red Cross on Martha’s Vineyard is “not participating” at this time.
Elizabeth Folcarelli, executive director of MV Community Services, said that the group seems to believe that more migrants are headed to the Island from Texas and “that they were part of a bigger group.”
Republican governors in Texas and Arizona have reportedly been sending migrants to Washington, D.C., by bus.
Like DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have also made public comments suggesting that immigrants crossing the border into Texas should be shipped to blue states and have even mentioned Martha’s Vineyard because it is the summer residence of former President Barack Obama.
A call to Abbott’s press office was not immediately returned
Last October, Cruz introduced legislation that would establish new ports in 13 Democratic-led communities, mentioning Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket by name, called the “Stop the Surge Act.”
Abigail Rosen, Eunki Seonwoo, and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this story.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly called the charter company Ultra Air Charters.