The migrants and refugees from Venezuela have left St. Andrew’s Church for Joint Base Cape Cod.
Buses rolled from St. Andrew’s at about 10 am and headed for the Steamship Authority. They arrived at about 10:30 am on Vineyard Transit Authority buses and a Yankee bus was waiting. The bus and passengers loaded onto the MV Governor and will be taken to Joint Base Cape Cod via Woods Hole.
Jhorman Cuicas, one of the migrans, told The Times he wishes he could stay.
On board the Governor, another migrant named Paolo told The Times, they were used politically, but he enjoyed the experience on the Vineyard. “The Island is beautiful and the people are very good,” he said.
A passenger on the Governor named Mark Allen, with his dog Coco, welcomed the migrants to America.
The mood was jubilant as migrants, some wearing Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School athletic attire, embraced volunteers they had come to know over their two night stay at St. Andrew’s Church and then walked through a corridor of press to waiting VTA buses. Some migrants carried luggage, others had a child in tow. One man smiled and put his hand over his heart before boarding a bus. Another man gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee guided each migrant onto the buses. Larkin Stallings, a Martha’s Vineyard Community Services board member, Jackie Stallings, co-owner of the Ritz, and Dukes County Manager Martina Thornton were among those who said goodbye to the migrants as they headed to the buses.
Meanwhile, the Dukes County Emergency Managers issued a press release confirming that the Baker-Polito Administration announced new shelter and humanitarian support at Joint Base Cape Cod for the approximately 50 migrants who arrived in Martha’s Vineyard this week. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is coordinating efforts among state and local officials to ensure access to food, shelter and essential services for these men, women and children. Governor Charlie Baker also plans to activate up to 125 members of the Massachusetts National Guard as part of this relief effort.
The migrants and refugees have been receiving shelter and food at St. Andrew’s Church since their arrival on Wednesday.
On Friday morning there was a joyful atmosphere outside the church and along Winter Street as the migrants and refugees took group photos and chatted with journalists from around the United States.
According to the press release, Joint Base Cape Cod is a facility already designated by MEMA as an emergency shelter in Barnstable County. The base was used during Hurricane Katrina to house people who were homeless after the hurricane tore through New Orleans and the surrounding communities.
“We are grateful to the providers, volunteers and local officials that stepped up on Martha’s Vineyard over the past few days to provide immediate services to these individuals,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in the release. “Our Administration has been working across state government to develop a plan to ensure these individuals will have access to the services they need going forward, and Joint Base Cape Cod is well equipped to serve these needs.”
MEMA is collaborating with state agencies and nonprofit organizations to ensure that individuals and families have access to a broad range of services, including legal, health care, food and other needs, the release states.
At the Steamship Authority terminal in Vineyard Haven, Tisbury and State Police monitored the transfer of migrants from VTA buses to a Yankee Charter bus. MEMA officials State Rep. Dylan Fernandes D-Falmouth, and Martina Thornton were also at the terminal, as was a composite legal team for the migrants. The charter bus rolled onto the Steamship Authority ferry Governor just before 11 am. That vessel departed for Woods Hole just after 11 am.
Some of the migrants got off the bus once the ferry departed, looking at the waves, chatting amongst themselves and answering reporters’ questions. A few smoked cigarettes, which they were asked to extinguish. On the ferry, immigration attorney Rachel Self said what happened to the migrants qualified as a civil rights violation and a due process violation. She also said some Martha’s Vineyard families opened their doors to migrants, but there is a need for them to be at the base for necessary immigration processes.
The Governor arrived in Woods Hole around 11:45 with MEMA officials, State Police and Falmouth police ready to meet the migrants. Some of the passengers who were aboard the Governor waited on the side to see the migrants’ bus off. The yellow bus was escorted to JBCC by two State Police motorcycle officers and MEMA officials to the cheers of the passengers. Through the darkened bus window, the migrants could be seen waving to those present at Woods Hole terminal.
Fernandes made comments about the migrants’ situation and took questions from reporters at Woods Hole after the bus left. He said a “long-term solution” is being considered and “there are wraparound services” at the base with immigration attorneys ready to help. Fernandes underscored how St. Andrew’s Church was “always temporary.”
“People were offered to leave, it was entirely voluntary,” Fernandes said. “There are vendors for food, water, shelter. There’re separate spaces for people with families. There are mental healthcare wraparound services — mental health, crisis management, regular healthcare, alongside longer-term contractors for case management to make sure that these kids can get some educational opportunities where available and we’re looking for longer term housing solutions as well.”
Fernandes continued by saying, “This is what good government actually looks like and this is what compassionate government actually looks like and I couldn’t be prouder of the people of Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod for their incredible work here, and I couldn’t be prouder to be from the state of Massachusetts.”
There were some pieces of information Fernandes did not have answers for, such as whether the migrants will remain in Massachusetts, if the migrants really had appointments with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) on Monday, or exactly where the migrants will be on the base.
“It’s been a long 36 hours, wherever we’re at, at this point,” Fernandes said. “When [the migrants] got off the planes, they were really confused, they were lied to about where they were going, what was gonna greet them when they were here, and we weren’t alerted to it. No one was there to greet them. But, what made me proud and I think what really comforted the people there was that we’re a community that sprang together to give them the resources that they needed. As soon as we knew they were here, we had an outpouring of support from everywhere to help out.”
An example Fernandes listed was that Spanish-speaking students from the local public schools came and made bracelets with the migrant children. He expressed confidence that the migrants will receive the support they need.
The individuals and families will be housed in dormitory-style spaces at JBCC, with separate spaces accommodating both individuals and families. Families will not be separated.
According to the release, the base is unable to accept public donations. “MEMA is establishing a process to accept relief donations, and additional information is forthcoming.”
The most recent influx of migrants from Venezuela stems from the nation’s current humanitarian crisis, which can be traced back through the country’s complicated political and socio-economic history. With political tensions continuously rising, and a Venezuelan currency in freefall, millions of people are leaving their country, in search of a safer, more stable place to live.
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), one of the world’s leading organizations devoted to helping those impacted by humanitarian crises, with increasing violence due to scarce resources, and lack of access to essential health care, those leaving Venezuela are migrating for their survival.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, over six million people have fled Venezuela since the death of President Hugo Chavez in 2013, and subsequent election of his successor Nicolás Maduro. Upon his 2018 re-election – after which his presidency was disputed – Maduro was widely criticized by many Venezuelans – and countries around the world – for his strict socialist policies and its adverse effect on the country’s economy.
Political volatility greatly increased following Maduro’s re-election, triggering opposition leader Juan Guaidó to declare himself the president of Venezuela, and in turn, splitting the country’s people–and the world’s nations – into two camps.
As reported by BBC, the fight for power between Maduro and Guaidó, and loyal supporters on both sides, has created a rift all the way to the world’s stage. More than 50 countries, including the United States recognize Guaidó as the president of Venezuela, whereas countries like Russia, China, and Turkey acknowledge Maduro’s claim.
The presidential dispute remains unresolved, as do the impacts to Venezuela’s economy and ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Reporters Eunki Seonwoo, Abigail Rosen, and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this story.