Less than 24 hours after 50 migrants and refugees from Venezuela arrived at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the Island is on the national stage — leading national news broadcasts and trending on Twitter.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who threatened to send immigrants to the Island a year ago, is claiming responsibility for what his political opponents are calling a “political stunt.”
Wilmer Javier, who arrived with his cousin and her husband and their child, said he thought they were headed to Boston and “all of a sudden the plane landed here.” Javier said everyone that arrived Thursday was flown from San Antonio, where they had been for 15 days.
Before that, Javier said he traveled from Venezuela and through Mexico.
They relayed through an interpreter that they came under the assumption that they were going to be helped and provided with employment opportunities and housing.
They don’t have family here, they don’t know anyone in Massachusetts, nor does he really know the rest of the group. Javier said he doesn’t know what to do, and is “at the mercy” of strangers at this point.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement through a spokesman Thursday saying Texas was not directly involved in flying the migrants to Massachusetts.. “Our office has had conversations with Governor DeSantis and his team about supporting our busing strategy to provide much-needed relief to our overwhelmed and overrun border communities,” spokesperson Renae Eze said. “Though we were not involved in these initial planes to Martha’s Vineyard, we appreciate the support in responding to this national crisis and helping Texans. Governor Abbott encourages and welcomes all his fellow governors to engage in this effort to secure the border and focus on the failing and illegal efforts of the Biden-Harris Administration to continue these reckless open border policies.”
As the Island woke up Thursday morning, emergency officials met via Zoom to discuss next steps.
At midday state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told The Times that the migrants will likely spend at least one more night at St. Andrews Church as state and federal officials consider a long-term plan to care for the individuals brought to the Island.
“At this point that’s pretty likely,” Fernandes said of them staying in Edgartown.. “We have some ongoing calls coming up with the state.”
Just after 2 pm, Gov. Charlie Baker issued a statement saying he is exploring the use of Joint Base Cape Cod. ““On behalf of the commonwealth, I thank everyone on the ground who quickly came together to provide assistance on the Vineyard,” Baker said. “The commonwealth has many resources for assisting individuals that arrive in Massachusetts with varying immigration statuses and needs and is working with all partners involved to make sure those resources are available to the migrants that arrived last night. In addition, the Baker-Polito Administration is exploring setting up temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod and will share additional information as soon as it becomes available.”
Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), also offered her support and use of the tribe’s community center. “This is a humanitarian issue of the first order. These people are human beings, individuals and families who deserve to be treated with kindness, compassion, dignity and respect,” she said. “This isn’t the first instance of us, the Wampanoag, assisting migrant people seeking asylum and the promise of a new life and new homeland. These are our indigenous brothers and sisters and we as the tribal government and community are committed to assisting where we are able to. We began by offering our Community Center as a temporary shelter. And, we are working with the towns, county, state and our federal partners to figure out additional support services and the best pathway forward.”
Andrews-Maltais also blasted DeSantis. “The (Florida) governor’s scheme to just ship these people and families anywhere, to make a political statement and make it someone else’s problem, is disgraceful; not only patently disrespectful, it ignores the dangers and struggles of these people’s situation,” she said. “Considering his own personal story, you would think he’d have a bit more understanding and compassion for all migrants.”
Thursday morning, hospital workers arrived at St. Andrews Church where there migrants and refugees were sheltered and fed to offer more supplies and volunteers.
“People have been amazing. The Islanders have been amazing,” Janet Constantino from MV Community Services, said.
The shelter at the church has received a deluge of donations of both food and clothing and has run out of storage space, Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee told The Times.
On the department’s Facebook page, they wrote that they have “been in contact with those staffing the shelter” and “at this time, nothing further is needed, so please do not drop off anything at the shelter.”
“Please help us keep traffic flowing by avoiding this area of town if at all possible. We will keep you updated if further supplies and support are needed,” the post reads.
At the church Thursday morning, Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, discussed the outpouring of support on the Vineyard.
“We have the situation under control. Local law enforcement jumped into action. The entire community sprung into action. We got people the beds they needed — the food, water, and shelter, medical support — quickly,” he said.
Today, the migrants and refugees are being served breakfast by the parish and lunch will be handled by the school department, Fernandes said. “We’re a community that’s welcoming, a community that helps one another and you see that today embodied on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Once again, Fernandes lashed out at DeSantis.
“I think it’s incredibly inhumane that an individual would use human beings — men, women and children. There are people here, I’m told, as young as 4 years old, as political pawns, put them on an airplane and ship them like cattle — not even being told where they’re going. Some people, I’m told, thought they were going to New York,” he said. “To use women and children as political pawns is cowardice. Gov. DeSantis is a coward and you see here today that this is an Island community and this is a state that’s going to support and help its most vulnerable people.”
He reiterated that it was a political stunt by DeSantis. “He wanted to create chaos. The immigrants who showed up were met with nothing but compassion by Islanders who stepped up and helped give them the support they need,” Fernandes said. “I think that shows the best of this community and I think that shows the best of America.
Fernandes said the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will be helping to come up with a long-term solution. “This is a temporary area. We’re working on triaging,” he said. “We’re making sure that everyone is as safe and comfortable as possible.”
Asked if they would be moved off-Island, Fernandes pointed out that Martha’s Vineyard already has a strained housing situation. “It’s likely we’ll need an off-Island location. All of that is being explored,” he said. “We’re going to keep supporting, feeding, housing these immigrant families for as long as they are here.”
Oak Bluffs Fire and EMS Chief Nelson Wirtz, chair of the Dukes County Emergency Managers, told The Times Thursday night he was proud of the strong response the community has provided both at the government level and the volunteer level. Wirtz said if anyone thought the care needs of the migrants wouldn’t be met and that Vineyarders would be overwhelmed, they were wrong.
Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center sent out a statement commending the Island community and calling for Spanish speakers to go to St. Andrews Church to help as translators. Martha’s Vineyard faith leaders met together on Thursday for further discussion about the situation.
“Each congregation wants to help,” Rev. Stephen Harding of Grace Episcopal Church said. He told The Times that Island faith leaders are working with their congregants to figure out the best way they can help the migrants. However, he recommended sending questions about how people can help the migrants through volunteering or donations to send an email to email@example.com.
When asked, Harding said there is no “central fund” people can donate money to for the migrants at this time.
It’s a breezy, crisp autumn like morning on the Island and several of the refugees have been given sweatshirts to stay warm.
Chicken Alley in Vineyard Haven also received many donations for the migrants.
“We live in a compassionate community that steps up, and we are going to do everything we can in this situation. It makes me incredibly sad that people would use human beings for political gain,” Sandy Pimentel, Chicken Alley employee and member of the Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition, said.
At the Woods Hole ferry terminal, two television crews were set up to do live shots — some stopping passengers getting off the ferry and asking them to comment on the situation that unfolded Wednesday.
Wednesday night, the Dukes County Emergency Management Association made a call for volunteers on Facebook for the “unexpected ongoing urgent humanitarian situation,” whether that be in clinical or non-clinical role. The association asks those who would like to help to contact them at 508-684-8015.
A GoFundMe has been set up by Sarah Goulet to benefit Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation for the migrant situation and has raised $2,100 of its $10,000 goal so far.
“It’s certainly amazing how caring this community is,” Emily Bramhall, executive director of the foundation, said. Bramhall told The TImes the foundation is currently working with other Island organizations and churches to figure out the best way to approach the situation.
Reporters Eunki Seonwoo, Abigail Rosen, and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this story.