‘A story of love’: Migrants reunite on the Island

All have obtained U visa certification, but many are still waiting for work authorization 


On a balmy September Saturday evening in Edgartown, 36 of the 49 mostly Venezuelan migrants who were transported here a year ago nearly to the day returned to the Island that welcomed them with open arms. 

English and Spanish conversation mingled and filled the air in the parking lot of St. Andrew’s Church and Parish House. 

The special private event served as a reunion and celebration for the migrants and the community members who rallied to support them last September. Tables and chairs were set up in the parish house’s parking lot, and a selection of homemade potluck dishes were provided for the migrants and other guests. There was also a screening of the short documentary film “Waiting to Continue,” and a church service led in English and Spanish to celebrate community and faith. 

“We are reuniting to reflect on the events that brought us together and to celebrate the resilience of our migrant friends. They are extraordinary people, and we want to continue to foster and forge our relationships that we have with them,” said immigration attorney and Island resident Rachel Self. Self assisted all 49 migrants in obtaining their U visa certifications — visas intended for people who have been the victim of a crime — and legal U.S. status, and personally represents five of them in their immigration cases. 

The reunion weekend was organized by a planning committee led by Lisa Belcastro of Harbor Homes Martha’s Vineyard, nurse practitioner Janet Constantino, the Rev. Cathlin Baker of the West Tisbury First Congregational Church, and Father Chip Seadale of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, according to a press release from Self. 

Forty-eight of the 49 migrants who arrived on the Vineyard wanted to attend the reunion event, but due to flight cancellations, only 36 were able to make it. Unsolicited donations from volunteers and community members were used to cover travel costs for the migrants, and they were provided free places to stay by community members. 

Nearly one year ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allegedly paid $615,000 to have the Venezuelans flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. The arrival of the migrants elicited an emergency response to provide shelter, food, and support for the stranded Venezuelan men, women, and children. A criminal investigation of DeSantis, spearheaded by Self, led to the 49 migrants receiving legal U.S. status. After their brief and unplanned stay on the Island, they were transported to Joint Base Cape Cod for further assistance by state and federal agencies, and with the help of attorneys were able to negotiate their plans from there. 

“We are proud that our Island community initially came together to help, and we continue to do so in all the ways we can,” Self said. “We wanted to honor our friendship and our bond that we made with each other by having a private event together with the community.”

The Times was asked not to approach the migrants for comment during the event. 

In earlier reporting by the Times, Self called the coerced transportation of the migrants a political stunt and condemned the Florida governor and presidential candidate DeSantis for his behavior. Self says a year later, she is proud to be reuniting with the group: “All invited this weekend were involved in the initial response, when all of these people first arrived in the fall of 2022. As we did when they first arrived to the Island, we are showing how a whole community can come together with teamwork, empathy, compassion, and kindness.”

In attendance at Saturday night’s potluck were many community members who provided assistance to the stranded migrants, including staff from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Community Services, first responders, fire departments, Harbor Homes, and St. Andrew’s Church. Individuals who spoke Spanish and volunteered their skills were of particular help last fall, as the Venezuelans did not speak English. 

Self shared how happy she was to see the progress that many of the migrants had made in the past year. “It’s really wonderful to see how everyone is doing. To have them turn to you and speak with you in English is really amazing, to see their progress that way,” she said. The attorney said she’s seen improvements in the migrants’ ability to understand English and to participate in basic dialogue and general pleasantries. 

“A lot of them didn’t have that skill a year ago,” said Self. “It’s really great to see how well they’re doing.”

Following the potluck dinner, the event moved into the church space, where guests were instructed to sit so the Venezuelans and their families could be seated in the front pews. 

There was music from Mike Benjamin on guitar and Wes Nagy on piano, before a screening of the short documentary film “Waiting to Continue,” featuring interviews from lawmakers, community leaders, and the Venezuelans themselves. The visitors appeared to love seeing themselves on the big screen; there was laughter, cheering, and applause from the Venezuelans. Local filmmakers Ollie Becker and Tim Persikno spoke, thanking the migrants for their participation in the film, and inviting them for interviews for a continuation of the project. 

The church service held at St. Andrew’s was conducted in English by Father Chip Seadale and the Rev. Cathlin Baker, as well as in Spanish by Pastor Vander Trindade. Translation of the English service was also provided for the migrants. 

The reunion weekend activities included ice cream in Oak Bluffs and a visit to the Ritz, as well as more church services, beach walks, jumping off Jaws Bridge, and a ride on the Flying Horses. 

According to the press release from Self, “the group chat among the migrants and volunteers is brimming with heart emojis and messages of gratitude.” 

One migrant wrote, “You guys are the best! Thank you for taking the time to bring us all together again. Know that we love you all!”

Though all the migrants have obtained their U visa certifications, which is a critical step in applying for U visas, (though obtaining the actual U visa could be decades away, according to Self,) most of them are still waiting for legal work authorization. 

“It’s a very long process,” Self said. “A couple of people have obtained their work authorization at this time, but most of them are still waiting.” Self said they are much closer to being able to work than they were a year ago. 

Of the overall situation, Self was proud of how the community rose to the occasion to provide critical support to people in need. 

“When you approach a situation, or what you might consider a problem, with love instead of hate, empathy and kindness instead of vitriol and exclusion, and you come together as a community in a true American way, you can effectuate meaningful change, make a huge difference in people’s lives, and watch them thrive. Our community is enriched by everyone who came here,” Self said. “It’s a story of love.”


  1. I’m brimming with pride for our compassionate MV community. ““When you approach a situation or what you might consider a problem, with love instead of hate, empathy and kindness instead of vitriol and exclusion” speaks volumes and provides great insight into what makes this island really special. “It’s a story of love” indeed. Thanks for covering this lovely story with such beautiful writing.

  2. It is very easy to be compassionate and caring for a few days or a weekend. Where is this island coming together to support these migrants long-term. It sounds like instead they’re being shipped off the island again for someone else to deal with. How many was the island able to incorporate? I understand Just a handful. Texas is dealing with thousands every day. While we’re patting ourselves on the back, why not go down to Texas, and bring more of them up here. Better still why did the Venezuelans not seek asylum in Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Mexico, that is where they speak their language and if you’re looking for asylum, you’re supposed to go to the first country. These are people looking for economic game and I do not blame them as we are the best country.

    • Bob– The short answer as to why I won’t go to
      Texas is because I could not care less about
      their problems. Perhaps if there are so many
      people down there, they should allow women
      to choose what to do with their bodies and
      quit having unwanted and uncared for babies.
      Do you wonder why 48 out of 49 of these people
      wanted to come back to the island after being treated
      so poorly?
      Go rain on some other parade please, and
      leave your hate somewhere else. — Could I suggest
      Texas or Florida? They have lots of hate down there,
      but I am sure they could use some more.

      • The bad news is president Biden doesn’t know what day it is. (So who is really running the country??) The good news is that most Americans…and Democrats…don’t want biden to run again.

          • I support President Biden’s Ukrainian policy but it seems insane that he cares more about their borders than our own. Impeach now!

        • Nobody does.
          He has a proven track record of beating Trump.
          2020 was about getting Trump out of office.
          2024 is about keeping Trump out of office.

          • Polls show Americans don’t want either man to run. It’s time for new blood with new ideas. Clearly, the Biden Administration has run out of gas…

          • Peter, really, duh.
            Trump was run out of office, for good reason.
            American politics has become choosing the least evil, without regard to age.
            Trump is 3.6% younger than Biden.
            B _ D.
            American’s want the President to be in their 50s.
            I want to always get my cart on the boat.
            I can’t always get what I want.
            Polls are not elections.
            Poll takers are suspect.

    • The immigrants were shipped to the island via a “slavery private jet”, they chose to leave.
      The Venezuelans not seek asylum in Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, or Mexico because they have repressive governments. Theses people yearn to be free, to have rights, to have Second Amendment Rights.

      • Then your policy is to let everyone in who claims to be oppressed, who yearns to be free and have American rights? An open door policy, which we really have now anyway.

          • So…Open Borders. The current anarchy at the border is not bad enough for you? Have you been paying attention? Gov. Healy has declared a state of emergency in MA as over 6,000 families are being housed at 40 hotels. 250 National Guardsmen have been activated to help out. More families are showing up every week. This is unsustainable. Your position on illegal immigration is wrong and self-destructive.

          • Peter, there was anarchy at our border under under Trump, the anarchy of separating young children from their parents and then locking them in cages. I prefer Biden’s anarchy.

            One of the primary functions of the National Guard is to provide humanitarian aid. Every illegal immigrant is a human being.

            Our current immigration rate is sustainable and desirable.
            Our economy needs people willing to mow lawns, install roofs, sweep up, and wipe our ageing population’s butts.
            It is estimated that 3.7% of our population is illegals.
            Close to half is of that number is expired work visas. Look at our Island’s Brazilin community.

            Please quantify the negative affects of illegals on you.
            Your position on illegal immigration is wrong and self-serving

        • “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  3. Things are a little different in NYC, Boston, Texas, AZ etc…Biden should be impeached for allowing our borders to remain open! This is a national crisis that will cost Democrats the election in 2024.

    • Millions of illegals came in under Trump.
      Should Trump have been impeached?
      A major factor in Trump’s 2020 loss was his treatment of young children at the border by his “Green Shirts”.
      Save the Children, Save All Freaking Children…

      • Trump tried to build a wall. He also closed the border for a time. That’s what we need to do now. Close it until we get control back again. Anything less is criminal.

        • Make America Great Again
          When were we last in control of our border?
          How illegals came in under Trump?
          How many young children were separated from their parents and kept in cages?
          How many days was the border closed? Why did Trump reopen it?
          Policy has consequences, the consequence of Trump’s policies was a denial of a second term, at least on the first try.
          Nobody wants Biden.
          A clear majority want not Trump.
          Speaking of criminal Trump has 91 criminal indictments.
          Thats 91 less than Nixon, the crook.

        • Peter–Do you have any idea what “closing
          the border” would do ?
          You say trump closed the border– I don’t know,
          maybe you will tell me you didn’t say that.
          Katherine and andy completely deny what
          they have written, even though it is clearly
          there for all to see. They are, after all, part of
          your ilk.
          But I don’t remember that trump closed the
          border and stranded 1.6 million citizens there.
          And I guess because he “closed” the border, no
          migrants crossed illegally that day. No U.S
          citizens went to their jobs in Mexico that day,
          and no Mexican citizens legally crossed into
          Texas to clean the houses of those rich white
          people who have bony fingers and drive Teslas.
          It must have been so much of a hardship for them.
          And since there were no legal Mexican workers
          to pick our vegetables, the price of fresh produce
          doubled overnight.
          I don’t remember the border being “closed”
          but I do remember that. Don’t you ?
          But really, everyone remembers the avocado panic.
          I won’t bother to document that claim, but that
          is what really happened.
          But of course, the right wing media didn’t cover
          it, so you would have no clue. I understand.

          • The border was closed during Covid I believe. He also tried to build a wall and beef up security down there. Not a Trump fan but he did a hell of a lot more than Biden and Mayorkis who rolled out the welcome mat. Both of these men need to go,,,Today!

          • peter, the border was never closed, at least hundreds crossed our land borders everyday.
            Not mention the hundreds of flights a day, including military.
            Trump’s wall was built with “China” grade steel, it was short and rotten, some of it has fallen down.
            Biden and Mayorkis need to go where Trump is, out of office.
            Jail is optional.

        • peter, the border was never closed. Millions of dollars and thousands of people, with visas go over the border every day.

          “Need to go,,,” Trump went primarily because of how he handled the border.
          His crummy little wall, that Mexico paid for (Trump lied.), that is falling down.

    • The borders are not “open”. Stop repeating nonsense.
      True to form, the usual suspects chime in with their usual garbage comments based on lies and falsehoods.

      • You keep letting MSNBC tell you that, Jim. Explain to the country how this immigrant crisis is happening or your definition of “open border”. Please. As per usual, the Party over Person mentality wants to push a don’t-believe-your-own-eyes narrative. The party in charge of the border (I’m guessing it is also your party) is not doing a good job. Stop telling people that this isn’t happening. Or read more. For heaven sakes, the Mayor in NYC is talking about the border. It is naïveté or ignorance that is keeping your blinders on. It harms this country when you allow the TV to dictate the truth.

  4. The Governor has declared a state of emergency because of these immigrants who entered the country illegally and called out the National Guard to deal with it yet some islanders somehow rejoice in this crisis. It’s beyond crazy. How many of the promoters of this “reunion” have taken in these people to their homes? Our governor, who was overwhelming voted for in the last election on the island, has asked every resident to take some into their homes. I’d love to hear how successful her call out has been. Also curious how many she has taken in to her new home in Arlington. Supporters of this policy should be ashamed.

    • Immigration is a humanitarian crisis, the National Guard does that.
      Islanders somehow rejoice in making DeSantis a fool.

      Please flesh out your policy for immigration. Will you look a the Statue of Liberty inscriptions for inspiration? Reinstitute Trump Era cages for young children?

  5. I am so proud of our community, the fact that they have stayed in touch and are continuing to help. The ongoing efforts for making sure they have what they need and the open hearts that continue to stay in touch and care for these people who are just like us, yet we’re born to less advantage.

  6. John- How many babies have you taken into
    your house that their mothers had to carry to
    term despite not wanting those children, nor
    being capable of properly caring for them ?
    Have you even bothered to fork up any money
    to the various charitable programs that are
    trying to assist these mothers?
    But back to immigration — Do you ever wonder
    why so many people want to come to the U.S ?
    It’s been ruined by a sleepy demented president
    after all. The economy is is ruins, crime is completely
    out of control, drug use is horrible, inflation is eating
    away at everything, that demented old guy and his
    family are so corrupt and have stolen more money
    off the American taxpayer than any government in history
    anywhere in the world. We need to have the military
    take over, since we are about to be invaded
    by China. And George Soros continues to set fire to
    large swaths of our country with his communist
    funded lasers in space.
    Approximately half of Americans hate the united
    States and are clearly trying to turn it into a
    socialist society. They even want to ration our beer
    and meat consumption, take away out guns and
    appliances, force us to drive cars we don’t want,
    killing all the marine life and are waging a war
    against god herself. We are clearly a third world
    country. And yet they walk for thousands of miles
    to get here, gain legal status and patiently wait
    for the wheels of freedom to turn and give them
    an opportunity in this country.
    Do you ever wonder why ?

    • Don, I find your comment abhorrent. Yes I have fostered four children over the years. You? Most of the rest of your comment as to the current condition of our country is spot on. Glad you’re finally seeing the truth.

      • andy– you seem to have no clue about sarcasm.
        Let me ask the question in a manner that
        most third graders can understand.
        IF MY country is a sh– —- country, like
        you and your ilk claim, why would millions
        of people walk thousands of miles , risk their
        lives as well as the lives of their children
        to get here?
        I was mocking you and your uncaring ilk
        for the hysterical lies you collectively
        spew about this great country.
        And you don’t even have enough common sense
        to know when you are being mocked.
        You know, this country is the land of opportunity,
        the land of the free and the home of the brave. You may try
        to defile it and what it stands for, but you will not
        This is the country with that shining beacon of
        freedom, opportunity and hope in the New York harbor.
        it is not a Christian country founded on principals
        of hatred and discrimination.
        Jesus preached love and acceptance. He would be
        Do you get it now ?

    • You correctly identify a score of problems that face the country today. But then you suggest that Open Borders are a good thing because people walk thousands of miles to get here? Your logic doesn’t fly. No country can exist for long if it cannot protect its borders. Sanctuary Cities (read Blue Cities) are begging for help from the Biden Administration. Gov. Healy has activated the National Guard here in MA for god’s sake. Have you seen the crisis in NYC? How much more of this disaster do you need to see before you wake up to the fact this administration is not enforcing our laws? I say Impeach Now!

      • Hundreds of thousands of people flooded over our borders while Trump was eating Big Mac’s and sucking on Diet Cokes.
        He was impeached, twice.
        Then what happened?

  7. Can’t all you political pessimists just be happy for a change and take this story as a positive reminder that there are stories of hope amidst all the despair everywhere in the world?!?

    • They cannot resist spouting the same old, easily disproven claims.
      Remind you of anyone? He is currently facing dozens of felony counts in Georgia and Federal court.

      • Jim– I think we can safely replace the word
        “dozens” with “score”.
        Apparently to be elevated to “hundreds” soon.
        And you forgot to mention criminal indictments
        in New York and New Jersey, as well as numerous
        civil cases and constitutional challenges to bar
        him from running in a number of states, since he
        clearly attempted to overthrow the legitimately
        government in a violent insurrection
        The 14 th amendment is pretty clear—-
        Oh, that pesky constitution is getting in the way
        of the ignorant “patriots” who think there is only
        one amendment that matters yet again.
        They love their mob boss
        We will see.

      • Tell that to Gov. Healy as she scrambles to help over 6,000 families of illegals that are now housed in 40 hotels in MA. 30 more families are coming every week. Blue States and Sanctuary Cities are reaping what they sowed. Check out the chaos in NYC. It’s madness.

        • What should Healy be doing with the over 6,000 families?
          Lock them up in cages?
          How about chartering private jets to take them to Florida?
          Would Texas be a better choice?
          The razor wire….

        • Peter– as winter approaches, I think the humane
          thing to do with all these people who are homeless
          is to give them round trip bus passes to Palm Beach
          Florida. It is warm there, and at least as wealthy as
          the Vineyard. There are more hotels in Palm Beach
          than on the Vineyard.
          Of course, anyone voluntarily accepting a free ride
          to such a wonderful place should know where they are
          going. They should be fully informed that while this is
          truly a humanitarian gesture, that some people will
          think it is a political stunt and they may be met with
          harassment, hateful racial epithets and perhaps
          even violence. They should be informed that the state
          and local governments, as well as the police force
          will do everything they legally can do to make
          their lives miserable. If anyone assaults them,
          the police will not give a rats’ behind, and will
          probably delight in any chance they get to beat them.
          But , it sure beats freezing to death on the streets
          of some crime ridden drug infested northern city.

          • Don, I think the humane thing to do with “all these people” is to bus them to Washington, DC. Drop them off at the White House, the Capitol Building and at Kamala’s house (you know, our Border Czar’s house). Let them reap what they have created.

  8. As individuals we can only do just so much to alleviate the immigration issue, but these individual efforts have a great effect on the folks who take notice of our kindnesses. It promotes action that will improve the migrant situation. Now don’t get me wrong, there is no overnight cure, but we have to remember we are descended from immigrants and we should be understanding of the hardships that have forced these folks to flee oppression. Kindness towards others make us a stronger society!

    • Yes and no. Kindness does not mean we have to open our borders from illegals from across the globe (some of whom should NEVER be allowed into our country). Anarchy at the border, encouraged by this administration, is criminal.

      • Albert, did you hear that things are so bad along our southern border that the city of San Diego gave up on preventing hundreds of illegals from entering the country this week. The Border Patrol stepped aside and said you’re free to enter and go anywhere you like. We are watching our country commit suicide. And the rot starts at the top.

    • Record number arrested, 91,000. The previous record was held by Trump, in 2019, of 84,000. Quite the distinction. Yes, illegal immigration is such a distinctly new and Biden fiasco.

      • And we haven’t even mentioned the ongoing fentenyl crisis. Chinese ingredients are processed by the Mexican drug lords and sent north. What is Biden, Mayorkis etc. doing about it? Last year, a record 70,000 Americans died from this cursed drug.

  9. What a heartwarming story. I bet it brings huge huge comfort to the hundreds of thousands of other immigrants sleeping on sidewalks and in parking lots. Nicely worded article as well, making sure that no one might get the wrong idea that this was not funded by “unsolicited private donations”. I am left wondering if the substantial costs of this photo-op might have been better spent directly helping immigrants that didn’t hit the lottery like these 49 did.

  10. Incredible job as well by attorney Self. Most all other immigrants wait months just to see an application. The ones being deposited in upstate NY don’t even have access to that.

  11. Biden and the democrats are responsible for the fiscal, economic and social disruption to our nation by their open border policy. The flow of deadly drugs, unvetted and criminal illegal aliens, are killing US citizens and destroying every sanctuary city. Close the border and deport illegal aliens to protect our country and people. Biden’s administration is corrupt, haphazard and illegal.

    • The flow of deadly drugs, unvetted and criminal illegal aliens, that are killing US citizens and destroying every sanctuary city, has increased slightly under Biden. Kids in cages is down.

  12. Honestly I can’t stand that I live in this ignorant community that supports non law abiding people and yet has no compassion for those who are citizens and are reaching out for help. What is wrong with us??

    • I love the vineyard where it’s still 1967. Marthas vineyard: a small island off the coast of reality. Love it!

      • You must be new here.
        In 1967 the Island was crawling with dope smoking hippies avoiding the draft.

        People who love the Island show respect by always capitalizing the V in Vineyard.
        People come to Island to avoid reality.
        Reality is Texas, lots of windmills.

  13. Yippppeeee!!! Now lets really help out our overwhelmed NYC folks that are freaking out in the streets because they are overwhelmed and regret their sanctuary cities policies!
    How about giving the illegal newcomers there all the empty giant elite winter homes sitting vacant.
    Island working folks are screaming and literally begging for a place to stay!
    Anyplace for them, their small children, their dog 2 cats and a parrot.

    Maybe Diane Sawyer and Obama can donate their $24million dollars homes they just put up for sale to house them at least for the winter!!!???
    I am sure they wont mind looking at a bunch or windmills offshore for a while!

  14. As an immigrant sponsored into America by a citizen adult daughter in 1995, the situation has changed dramatically. I had to provide proof of being in good health by an American Embassy physician, had to provide police statements proving I has no police record from each of the jurisdictions and countries I had previously lived in, and had to offer proof of sufficient financial resources to sustain myself permanently from ever being dependent on U.S. govt. support. I glean no American Social Security benefits except Medicare as pay my share for the privilege, having become a U.S. citizen in 2000.

    I agree that currently the ongoing influx of desperate people from the entire beleaguered world is unsustainable similar to unlimited population growth. Just read in Population Connection, an excellent magazine, that in Pakistan the AVERAGE number of babies born to each mother, is 6.7. Poverty creates crises and we are witnessing the end of post WW2 prosperity here except for the 1%. The current border situation is beyond repair as desperation fuels risk taking despite increased border control efforts. This ongoing crisis unfortunately has no end in sight.

    In one of the NY city boroughs the impact of overwhelming hordes of newcomers i.e. immigrants is causing the invaded communities to be completely overwhelmed causing them to react negatively. The financial burden on such communities nationwide appears unsustainable and unjust to American citizens born here who are ignored, displaced, and homeless, unable to buy or rent homes for their own families. Growth and change is good, but not if it destroys the very host it feeds upon.

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