Migrants will be on the move again

Joint Base Cape Cod shelter to close by this weekend.

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Migrants left the Island for Joint Base Cape Cod on Sept. 16.— Eunki Seonwoo

The migrants who arrived on Martha’s Vineyard two weeks ago and then moved to temporary housing at Joint Base Cape Cod two days later will soon be on the move again.

The 50 migrants from Venezuela arrived on the Island Sept. 14 in an unannounced landing at Martha’s Vineyard Airport orchestrated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. After spending two nights in a cramped shelter at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown with limited facilities, the migrants were moved to an emergency shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod on Sept. 16, and have been there since — though some have moved on already.

On Tuesday, the Baker-Polito administration issued a press release announcing that the 35 remaining migrants would be moving from the Upper Cape base by the weekend. 

“Currently, 35 individuals and family members remain at JBCC and are working with case managers to develop more sustainable housing plans. Fourteen individuals, including family units, have left the base for opportunities in and outside Massachusetts,” the release states. “It is anticipated that the remaining residents will depart JBCC this week as additional transitional housing opportunities are finalized. JBCC’s temporary shelter operation is scheduled to conclude by this weekend.”

On Monday, Rachel Self, an Island-based immigration attorney who has been working with the migrants, told The Times that at least four of the migrants have returned to live on Martha’s Vineyard. Others are also expected to come to the Island to live after having received offers of housing during their brief stay.

Tuesday night, Self reacted to the governor’s announcement. “The base was never intended to be permanent,” she told The Times. “Now that immediate humanitarian and legal needs have been addressed, most of the newcomers I have spoken with are anxious to move forward. Many already have moved on to start their new lives. Transitional housing is being worked on for those that still need it. I have spent much of the past few weeks on the base with them, witnessing their strength and courage, and the support and generosity of our community. It has been such a privilege to have the opportunity to assist these brave, deserving individuals, and to see over and over again what amazing things we can do when we work together to help others.”

State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, had a similar reaction. “This has always been a temporary emergency shelter, and always designed as such. These are Army barracks. It’s not the place you’d want to live long-term and build a life,” he said.

Two agencies — Father Bill’s and Housing Assistance Corporation — have been working with the migrants to find housing placements. The migrants have been given access to the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, which provides up to $10,000 to either preserve current housing or assist with new housing. The program is administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Families have been given priority, and then individuals, Cyr said. “Some people are working to continue on with plans they had earlier to meet friends and family elsewhere in the country,” he said. He said he knows of three brothers who will relocate to the outer Cape. “It’s proceeding the way it should be proceeding,” Cyr said. “From a long-term perspective, the base wasn’t sustainable.”

He noted that while they had food, shelter, and access to transportation off the base, it’s not the lives they came to the U.S. to lead. “This is what should be happening. I don’t think it would be fair for this to continue in perpetuity. They’re eager to start their lives,” he said.

Along with shelter and food at the base, migrants have had access to clothing and hygiene supplies, as well as healthcare and crisis counseling, according to the release. Migrants have also had access to legal services, case management for housing, spiritual care, and interpreter services, the release states.

A fund established by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services has been distributed to the migrants. “This financial assistance was made possible by the generosity of the many individuals who contributed to a fund coordinated by MVCS,” the release states.

The money came from donations received during their stay on the Vineyard, according to Self, who along with a team of lawyers has been seeing to the migrants’ asylum needs. Donations were accepted only while the migrants were on the Vineyard — Wednesday, Sept. 14, to Friday, Sept. 16. “They shut down the donations literally Friday morning,” Self said.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services served as custodian of funds, Self said. 

“The donations were incredibly generous,” Self said. Eastern Bank representatives, including Spanish-speaking tellers, came to the base and assisted with the implementation of banking apps on phones provided to the migrants, Self said. “Huge props to Eastern Bank,” Self said.

The press release also praises the many community organizations and businesses that came together to assist. 

“We are incredibly grateful for so many of our partners who’ve mobilized to help the folks sheltering at Joint Base Cape Cod,” acting MEMA director Dawn Brantley said in the release. “I especially want to thank the professionals at Father Bill’s and MainSpring for the tremendous expertise and compassion that they brought to this response. Their team has worked hard, around the clock from day one to ensure that day-to-day operations and service provision run smoothly. We are fortunate and very grateful they are part of this team.”

Cyr took the opportunity again to praise both the Vineyard and Joint Base Cape Cod for stepping up to help these people in need. “I’m proud of the response we had here in Massachusetts to this cruel political ruse that was using human beings as pawns,” he said. “I’m proud to be from Massachusetts, and I really hope and expect these folks will receive housing placements.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. What was the dollar amount of money raised for the migrants? I would think this would be part of the reporting. They were rushed off the island to fast as we can see some of them are coming back.

      • Aron are you the kind of guy who invites total strangers into their home? Or are you the kind of guy who is “glad they are coming back” because quite frankly it wont affect your or your families life in any way?

    • Why was it too fast if there were services and lawyers and housing and facilities and bathrooms and a support system that benefited them more than living on the floor of a church? They got exactly what they needed- if they were dumped in Chelsea and moved to Brockton nobody would have said Boo.

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