Vineyard pride

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St. Andrew's Church in Edgartown.

We saw the worst of humanity. We saw the best of humanity.

The 50 migrants and refugees from Venezuela were on Martha’s Vineyard for just about 40 hours, but in that time we saw — once again — that Islanders rise to the occasion when opportunity presents itself.

Helping individuals they met by surprise and comforting them. Reports from volunteers indicate some of the migrants had not eaten or had water for 10 hours. At least one person suffered from having been beaten prior to arriving in the United States and was in need of dental care.

Martha’s Vineyard did not look away. Martha’s Vineyard jumped into action providing both short-term care and looking to our state leaders to assist with longer term solutions. No one was kicked to the curb, which has become the despicable narrative of the spineless, gutless cowards who sent these individuals to the Island.

This opportunity came at the hands of the disgraceful actions of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who used these individuals as political pawns in his efforts to stir up his base.
But a funny thing happened on the way to “owning the libs” and the “elites.”

Martha’s Vineyard didn’t cower to the chaos and confusion that DeSantis and his hired hacks attempted to create. Instead, the people he allegedly coerced onto planes with the promise of jobs and housing, were met with compassion and care.

We’ve been told that their journey started in Texas, continued into Florida, then had stopovers in North Carolina, and continued on to Martha’s Vineyard. The migrants and refugees were picked up in vans and left in the parking lot of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services with simplistic maps that had been handed to them.

There should be an investigation into what the migrants and refugees were promised, who promised it, and there should be repercussions for those involved. No one should be above the law. Along with legal consequences, voters should hold DeSantis, as well as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, accountable for the inhumanity of their actions.

What was clear from the vitriol written on social media and spoken in some interviews is that nationally there really isn’t an understanding of Martha’s Vineyard. Some of that is the media’s fault for describing the Island as a “moneyed-retreat” and “playground of the rich and famous.” That’s political demagoguery and lazy reporting. The Island’s per capita income is within 8 percent of Palm Beach County’s and the Palm Beach County population and public services are 70 times what Dukes County has to offer. Yes, there are some Hollywood types who vacation here and former President Barack Obama has a summer home, but that ignores the fact that Martha’s Vineyard has a year-round population that is more blue collar with an ongoing housing crisis.

The rabid followers of DeSantis, Abbott, and Sen. Ted Cruz — in the spirit of their party’s disgraced leader former President Donald Trump — never let facts get in the way of their lies and half-truths. We’re not going to convince them that what was done was inhumane and unjust. They’re too blind to see and too deaf to hear. We only hope, as the Boston Globe so eloquently put it, that there is a special place in hell for individuals who would use vulnerable people as political pawns.

Now that we have that out of the way. Let’s take some time to reflect on the good that we saw in that same 40 hours. We know we’re going to miss a lot of people who pitched in and this isn’t meant to be a complete list, but we offer a few shining examples among the many stars. Starting with Sheriff Robert Ogden and the folks at MV Community Services who assessed the situation and began to find a short-term solution to help the migrants and refugees.

Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools quickly answered the call — Superintendent Richie Smith jumping into action and even riding the school bus with these individuals. Opening up the high school, providing water and snacks. Spanish teachers and some of their students aided in being interpreters or just taking a moment to play with the children.

Rev. Chip Seadale wasn’t even on-Island, but he quickly said yes to opening his church and parish hall at St. Andrew’s in Edgartown. The rest of the faith community on the Island also rallied to assist. Police, fire, sheriff’s deputies, EMS, and others provided support. Volunteers emerged out of the woodwork. Donations piled up so much that at one point Edgartown Police had to put out an alert asking people to stop bringing food and clothing to the church. There was no more room.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, established himself as a true leader — the anti-DeSantis. Speaking out against the inhumanity while rolling up his shirt sleeves to assist at the temporary shelter and to make sure the state’s attention was focused on helping to find a longer-term solution. The same can be said for state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro.

Meanwhile, folks reached out to us begging for us to find out how they could help and a GoFundMe emerged that quickly gathered thousands of dollars to assist these individuals and families.

What happened to these migrants and refugees at the hands of DeSantis was heartless and despicable. How they were treated when they arrived on the Vineyard showed the very best of humanity.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, MV Times. And thank you to those who stepped up.

    Here is a long piece written by Heather Cox Richardson, explaining quite clearly what this cruel, political stunt is for–what is really behind it. MAGAs, the dimwitted deplorables, are salivating over this lying, unethical creep, Ron DeSantis. Playing the “Mexicans who come here are rapists” card worked once for another lying, unethical creep. Is it any wonder why someone of the same caliber uses disgusting tactics against human beings, too?

    Heather Cox Richardson
    September 16, 2022 (Friday)
    “The big story in the news over the past couple of days is that Florida governor Ron DeSantis chartered two planes to fly about 50 migrants, most of whom were from Venezuela, to Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.
    The story is still developing. Although DeSantis is the governor of Florida, the migrants appear to have come from Texas, and it currently appears that they were lured onto the planes—paid for with taxpayer money—with the false promise of work and housing in New York City or Boston. In addition, there are allegations from a lawyer working with the migrants that officials from the Department of Homeland Security falsified information about the migrants to set them up for automatic deportation. As I write this, it is not clear what their actual status is: have they applied for asylum and been processed, or are they undocumented immigrants?
    As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo says, none of it adds up.
    None of it, that is, except the politics. DeSantis apparently dispatched the migrants with a videographer to take images of them arriving, entirely unexpectedly, on the upscale island, presumably in an attempt to present the image that Democratic areas can’t handle immigrants (in fact, more than 12% of the island’s 17,000 full-time residents were born in foreign countries, and 22% of the residents are non-white). But the residents of the island greeted the migrants; found beds, food, and medical care; and worked with authorities to move them back to the mainland where there are support services and housing. In the meantime, there are questions about the legality of DeSantis chartering planes to move migrants from state to state.
    There are two big stories behind DeSantis’s move.
    First is that the Republicans are on the ropes over the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision and the capture of the party by its MAGA wing. That slide into radical extremism means the party is contracting, but it is not clear at all that base voters will show up in the midterms without former president Trump on the ballot.
    Rallying voters with threats of “aliens” swamping traditional society is a common tactic of right-wing politicians; it was the central argument that brought Hungary’s Viktor Orbán into his current authoritarian position. Republican governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona have been bussing migrants to Washington—about 10,000 of them—saying they would bring the immigrant issue to the doorsteps of Democrats. Now DeSantis is in on the trick.
    Immigrants are nothing new to northern cities, of course. The U.S. is in a period of high immigration. Currently, 15% of the inhabitants of Washington, D.C., are foreign born, only slightly less than the 16.8% of the population of Texas that is foreign born. About 29% of the inhabitants of Boston come from outside U.S. borders, as do 36% of the inhabitants of New York City.
    In the lead-up to the midterms, Republicans have tried to distract from their unpopular stands on abortion, contraception, marriage equality, and so on, by hammering on the idea that the Democrats have created “open borders”; that criminal immigrants are bringing in huge amounts of drugs, especially fentanyl; and that Biden is secretly flying undocumented immigrants into Republican states in the middle of the night. Beginning in July, they began to insist that the country is being “invaded.”
    In fact, the border is not “open.” Fences, surveillance technology, and about 20,000 Border Patrol agents make the border more secure than it has ever been. That means apprehensions of undocumented migrants are up, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recording more than 3 million encounters at the border since January 2021. Those high numbers reflect people stopped from coming in and are artificially inflated because many who are stopped try again. CBP estimates that about 27% of those stopped at the border are repeat apprehensions.
    Although much fentanyl is being stopped, some is indeed coming in, but through official ports of entry in large trucks or cars, not on individual migrants, who statistically are far less likely than native-born Americans to commit crimes. And the federal government is not secretly flying anyone anywhere (although, ironically, DeSantis is); U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sometimes moves migrants between detention centers, and CBP transfers unaccompanied children to the Department of Health and Human Services. These flights have been going on for years.
    The second story is the history of American immigration, which is far more complicated and interesting than the current news stories suggest.
    Mexican immigration is nothing new; our western agribusinesses were built on migrant labor of Mexicans, Japanese, and poor whites, among others, in the late 19th century. From the time the current border was set in 1848 until the 1930s, people moved back and forth across it without restrictions. But in 1965, Congress passed the Hart-Celler Act, putting a cap on Latin American immigration for the first time. The cap was low: just 20,000, although 50,000 workers were coming annually.
    After 1965, workers continued to come as they always had, and to be employed, as always. But now their presence was illegal. In 1986, Congress tried to fix the problem by offering amnesty to 2.3 million Mexicans who were living in the U.S. and by cracking down on employers who hired undocumented workers. But rather than ending the problem of undocumented workers, the new law exacerbated it by beginning the process of militarizing the border. Until then, migrants into the United States had been offset by an equal number leaving at the end of the season. Once the border became heavily guarded, Mexican migrants refused to take the chance of leaving.
    Then, in the 1990s, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) flooded Mexico with U.S. corn and drove Mexican farmers to find work in the American Southeast. This immigration boom had passed by 2007, when the number of undocumented Mexicans living in the United States began to decline as more Mexicans left the U.S. than came.
    In 2013 a large majority of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, backed a bill to fix the disconnect caused by the 1965 law. In 2013, with a bipartisan vote of 68–32, the Senate passed a bill giving a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, who would have to meet security requirements. It required employers to verify that they were hiring legal workers. It created a visa system for unskilled workers, and it got rid of preference for family migration in favor of skill-based migration. And it strengthened border security. It would have passed the House, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to bring it up for a vote, aware that the issue of immigration would rally Republican voters.
    But most of the immigrants coming over the southern border now are not Mexican migrants.
    Beginning around 2014, people began to flee “warlike levels of violence” in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, coming to the U.S. for asylum. This is legal, although most come illegally, taking their chances with smugglers who collect fees to protect migrants on the Mexican side of the border and to get them into the U.S.
    The Obama administration tried to deter migrants by expanding the detention of families, and it made significant investments in Central America in an attempt to stabilize the region by expanding economic development and promoting security. The Trump administration emphasized deterrence. It cut off support to Central American countries, worked with authoritarians to try to stop regional gangs, drastically limited the number of refugees the U.S. would admit, and—infamously—deliberately separated children from their parents to deter would-be asylum seekers.
    The number of migrants to the U.S. dropped throughout Trump’s years in office. The Trump administration gutted immigration staff and facilities and then cut off immigration during the pandemic under Title 42, a public health order.
    The Biden administration coincided with the easing of the pandemic and catastrophic storms in Central America, leading migration to jump, but the administration continued to turn migrants back under Title 42 and resumed working with Central American countries to stem the violence that is sparking people to flee. (In nine months, the Trump administration expelled more than 400,000 people under Title 42; in Biden’s first 18 months, his administration expelled 1.7 million people.)
    The Biden administration sought to end Title 42 last May, but a lawsuit by Republican states led a federal judge in Louisiana to keep the policy in place. People arriving at the U.S. border have the right to apply for asylum even under Title 42.
    There are a lot of moving pieces in the immigration debate: migrants need safety, the U.S. needs workers, our immigrant-processing systems are understaffed, and our laws are outdated. They need real solutions, not political stunts.”

  2. Is this editorial tongue in cheek? I’m serious. The island got rid of these individuals as soon as possible. Ya sure, we took care of them for a day or so but we knew we’d be sending them off island. We were stricken because we couldn’t accommodate 50 people! 50!!! Meanwhile communities on the border with infinitely less resources than us are dealing with thousands of people every week. We should be ashamed for not truly doing our part to address this humanitarian crisis.

    • “WE took care of them…?” “WE were stricken…?” Did YOU help out, in any positive way? Please, tell us what you “truly” did to address this humanitarian crisis, because as it was happening, all I saw from you was snark.

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