Florida Governor flies 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard

On Sept. 14, two planes of migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard from a shelter in San Antonio, leading to over 50 people being relocated. The person behind these flights? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

CNN’s Amy Simonson explains that this group included seven families, including four young children, who were originally from Venezuela before making their way to the U.S. The New York Times’ Patricia Mazzei gives further context to the group’s journey, explaining how many of the families had crossed from Venezuela up through the Darien Gap before going through Central America and Mexico and arriving in Texas. Many families spent days in immigration detention before being released, where they were told they could receive passage to Boston, Mass.

Instead of arriving in Boston, the group landed in Martha’s Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts.

The group was sent without advance notice, leaving the community to scramble to pull together enough resources to support them. The residents of Martha’s Vineyard rose to the challenge, with Simonson noting that officials came together to provide “shelter, food, and care to individuals,” and finding them a bed to sleep in for the night. Matt Dixon of Politico notes that local high school AP Spanish students even left class to serve as translators for the migrants, to ensure that their needs were being met.

Such actions weren’t an isolated occurrence or one-off plan by DeSantis. In fact, they were part of his campaign strategy, and only the latest of Florida’s immigration policies. Jessica Chasmar of Fox News explains how this action was DeSantis following through on “his promise to drop off illegal immigrants in progressive states,” making the argument that such individuals were let into the country due to these progressive state’s policies, and thus not only should they share the burden in caring for them, but that such areas can do so better. Chasmar furthers that such actions were funded by a recent appropriation of $12 million by the Florida legislature to implement an “immigration relocation program.”

Florida isn’t alone in such policies. Mazzei furthers that Republican Governor Greg Abbott has been doing this tactic for months, using buses instead of planes. Similar actions have also been taken by the state of Arizona. This includes at least 6,200 migrants sent from Texas to Washington, D.C., and additional buses to locations such as Chicago and New York. Simonson furthers that shortly after DeSantis’ move, Abbott sent two buses of migrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C.

The difference, Mazzei explains, is that DeSantis’ actions are an escalation of these existing policies.

The use of flights and DeSantis’ refusal to give advance notice to the communities he’s sending migrants to are causing panic in immigrant support groups and states who’ve been named as potential destinations. Luckily, Dixon furthers, relief groups are collaborating to prepare for future planes of migrants from DeSantis, using informal networks between immigration and advocacy organizations to “rapidly deploy services once they get news of the next flight.” He furthers that such groups are strengthening coordination and increasing services across the board, bulking up existing networks that have existed in response to the “confusion and disorder DeSantis and Abbott’s migrant transports are causing.”

DeSantis also chose a more politically-motivated destination than in prior relocation initiatives. Fox News’ Jessica Chasmar describes the area as a “playground for rich progressives, including former President Barack Obama,” representing a common Republican viewpoint that could be shared by DeSantis. Such a small island reliant on seasonal visits from wealthy residents does not have the resources to sustain the immigrant population. Mazzei explains how the migrants had to stay in a church because their homeless shelter only had room for ten people, how the island itself faces a serious lack of affordable housing, and how the plane came at the end of their summer season, meaning there are no available jobs throughout the winter for the migrants to work.

This new iteration of migrant relocations has led to legal investigations.

Mazzei notes that while it is not illegal for migrants to travel throughout the U.S. once released from immigration custody, and similarly not against the law for state governments to finance that travel, the migrants on the Martha’s Vineyard flights have filed a suit against DeSantis and other Florida officials for doing so through use of a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” through lies concerning the journey. Eve Zuckoff of NPR interviewed several of these migrants, who told her that a woman approached them outside the shelter, luring them into boarding the plane with promises of a safe flight to Boston, expedited work papers, and other support systems. These people were left confused when the plane turned up in a different destination without the promised support, leaving local Martha’s Vineyard police with the burden of explaining what had happened to them.

Reporters at Orlando Weekly covered the current lawsuit, stating that asylum seekers are seeking “a nationwide injunction to block the governor from luring immigrants to travel across state lines.” Such a suit would include monetary damages, and would prevent the DeSantis administration from using fraud and misrepresentation to convince people to cross state lines. Orlando Weekly furthers that the migrants were told false promises that they would “receive employment, housing, educational opportunities and other like assistance” in Boston, and given official-looking documents in a welcome-package-like folder, which contained false information about the immigration process with benefits that wouldn’t apply for the group of Venezuelan immigrants. The difference between this case and previous migrant movements is the manner with which the immigrants were treated, not the movement itself.

Updates on this groundbreaking lawsuit and future actions by DeSantis and other states regarding migrant relocation are expected to play out over the coming months, and be a crucial issue in the coming elections.