The 50 migrants and refugees left for the mainland on Friday, but that hasn’t dimmed the spotlight on Martha’s Vineyard.
On Wednesday afternoon when two planes arrived unannounced at Martha’s Vineyard Airport carrying the migrants and refugees, Island social services, public safety, school officials, and volunteers sprung into action creating a temporary shelter at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown. That was always seen as a short-term solution because of the crowded conditions and lack of facilities at the church and its rectory.
On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the migrants and refugees would be given the opportunity to move to Joint Base Cape Cod. In a press release on Sunday, the Baker-Polito administration reiterated that “the commonwealth offered the migrants a voluntary transition from the Martha’s Vineyard facility to JBCC. State officials provided transportation to individuals and families from the Island to a temporary shelter on JBCC, where a broad range of services have been established to support urgent needs.”
According to the release, “The dormitory-style space at JBCC allows organizers to create specific housing areas for families, who will remain together as a unit, women, and any person with specific needs including medical care. Dedicated space for these groups ensures their continued safety, security, and privacy.”
The state shared a video of the housing with the release.
A small plane towing a banner with the words “Vineyard Hypocrites” has been seen circling in up-Island airspace Monday morning.
According to Martha’s Vineyard Airport Director Geoff Freeman, the plane did not originate from the Island’s main airport, nor did it take off from the much smaller, private Katama Airfield, according to their representatives.
Freeman told The Times that the small plane is not communicating with MVY air traffic control tower.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), planes that fly below 1,400 feet are not required to communicate with air traffic control, often unseen on tower radar, and are exempt from the aviation regulations abided by larger commercial planes. Martha’s Vineyard Airport (MVY) Commission chair Bob Rosenbaum clarified that the airport’s Class D airspace extends five miles from the center of the airport, and up to an elevation of 2,600 feet, indicating that the plane towing the banner must have been circling outside of said airspace, and hindering identification.
As to where the plane took off from, FAA staff told The Times that it would be virtually impossible to decipher who charted the banner-tow, as the plane’s tail number likely is not consistent with the manufacturer of the banner itself, or the entities that paid for the flight.
The banner follows considerable backlash from a handful of right leaning news outlets and members of the public deeming the recent transfer of 50 Venezuelan migrants to Joint Base Cape Cod “hypocritical.”
It remains unclear at this point who is responsible for the plane and banner.
The “Vineyard hypocrites” line is a false narrative being promoted on social media and public statements made by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state paid for the migrants to be flown to the Island, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Both DeSantis and Cruz have used words like “deported” to describe Gov. Baker’s decision to move the 50 individuals to Joint Base Cape Cod where they have dormitory style housing with access to bathrooms, showers, and food.
The Times comment section has been deluged by commenters, many providing false names and not approved for posting as a result, who are criticizing the “Vineyard elites,” and The Times newsroom is also receiving calls from folks demanding to know why the Island “sent those illegals packing.”
The Times isn’t the only place receiving calls criticizing the Island. Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School principal Sara Dingledy said the school has also been receiving calls from people making negative remarks. In an Islanders Talk Facebook post, The Dockside Inn owner John Tiernan said his inn got a call Friday night from a man who was displeased about the Vineyard and the migrants’ situation.
But the narrative being portrayed by DeSantis and Cruz doesn’t match the outpouring of support.
Even high-profile attorney and Chilmark resident Alan Dershowitz, who has had his issues with the Vineyard community claiming he’s been shunned for his legal support of former President Donald Trump, told The Times the Island “opened its arms and welcomed the refugees.” Dershowitz said and The Times had confirmed he offered to provide food and lodging for the migrants and refugees.
“Was a heartwarming email asking me to do what I can to make sure the migrants are cared for,” Rabbi Tzvi Alperowitz of Chabad of Martha’s Vineyard wrote in an email. “Alan offered to pay whatever it would cost.”
Dershowitz said if he was interviewed about the subject he “would set the record straight” about the Island’s response.
Meanwhile, immigration lawyers at Joint Base Cape Cod are helping the migrants and refugees work through the legal questions surrounding their status. They were processed in Texas, but before boarding the planes they allegedly signed documents with addresses in various parts of the country, according to Rachel Self, an immigration attorney who is one of several attempting to help the migrants and refugees.
Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration attorney who has put his name on the list of attorneys to assist the migrants, said the idea that these migrants were forced off the Island is “ridiculous.”
Cameron said attorneys will help them check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement remotely. He confirmed a brochure has been circulating that shows some of the false promises of jobs and housing that were offered to these individuals to entice them to go on the planes.
Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), issued a “nationwide alert and warning” about a woman who called herself “Perla” in relation to the Venezuelan migrants. The league is offering a $5,000 reward for “information leading to the positive identification, arrest and conviction” of the woman.
The release stated that migrants interviewed by LULAC on Martha’s Vineyard “blamed [Perla] for falsely enticing them with three months of work, free housing, and other support if they agreed to take the 2,100-mile flight from Texas. None of the migrants were told where they were being taken.” Perla approached the migrants near the migrant resource center in San Antonio, Texas.
“Clearly, her actions were to use lies to lure men and women into being used as political piñatas without their knowledge. It is a crime to recruit immigrants for employment when they do not have work permits. The entire country is witnessing the shameful toll these lies have taken on people in despair, the least among us. Jesus would be very disappointed by Governor [Ron] DeSantis and Governor [Greg] Abbott,” Garcia, who came to Edgartown on Friday to meet the migrants, said in a statement.
As for the future of these migrants and refugees, Cameron is confident they will be able to find places to live. “There are communities all over Massachusetts ready to take them in,” he said. “They won’t have any trouble if they want to stay here.”
Reporters Eunki Seonwoo, Abigail Rosen, and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this story.