Martha's Vineyard became the epicenter of the nation's debate over immigration on Wednesday when planes carrying 50 migrants from Venezuela suddenly arrived at the Vineyard airport unannounced.
The transport of the migrants to the Vineyard was purportedly organized by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as part of a Republican party tactic to draw attention to the immigration situation along the southern border. The plane arrived on the Vineyard with no prior notice, leaving the community scrambling to accommodate the group of migrants with shelter, food, and other services.
The migrants were provided lodging at the St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, according to the Martha's Vineyard Times, and Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden told them through a translator: “We’re going to take care of you...The most important thing is we get you food and shelter and water."
The Vineyard Gazette reported the migrants did indeed receive an "outpouring" of support.
DeSantis himself was on Nantucket just last month for a fundraiser, but it was unclear if that visit and his island-connected donors would make him more or less likely to bring such a tactic to Nantucket.
Nantucket's municipal leaders said Thursday they had no indications that DeSantis or any other group was planning a similar operation to bring migrants to the island. But they were still preparing for that possibility nonetheless.
"There's absolutely no verifiable intelligence that anything is coming this way," Nantucket Police Chief Bill Pittman said. "There's tons of rumors about additional planes and buses coming into the northeast, none verified by federal and state officials. But we’re prepared."
Pittman spent Thursday in meetings with town officials reviewing plans in the event a plane of migrants arrived on Nantucket unannounced, as they did on the Vineyard.
"We met today with town departments and treated it essentially as a hurricane event," Pittman said. With state officials indicating that they would likely be opening a shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod, Pittman said that in the event migrants were transported to the island from the south, they would need only temporary accommodations before being transferred to the mainland.
"It’s pretty amazing how quickly the state officials have responded and how much the south shore communities are really stepping up to offer services and education and transportation," Pittman said. Asked about the tactic of Governors sending migrants to states with political differences, he added: "It’s not a humanitarian way to deal with people, and that’s something you can't forget regardless of what your politics are. They have right to live and be safe and not be used against their will."
At Nantucket Memorial Airport, manager Tom Rafter said his staff had been preparing as well, despite no concrete information on whether the island would receive any migrants from southern states.
"We don't have any indication, but I don't know the Vineyard did either," Nantucket Memorial Airport manager Tom Rafter said. "So we're starting to plan and figure out what we can do, figure out what our resources are, if we need translators, and checking with legal to know our restrictions and obligations. It's a very unique situation. But we'll do whatever we can, we're just waiting to see."
Jerico Mele, the town of Nantucket's human services director, said he and others in municipal government had been communicating with their counterparts on the Vineyard about the situation.
Both Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket had been brought into the national debate over immigration last year, when Texas Senator Ted Cruz identified the islands and 11 other communities as locations where he wants to establish new ports of entry to send undocumented immigrants who have been detained at the Texas border. Cruz introduced the legislation, which he calls the “Stop the SURGE Act”, yesterday as a way to “alleviate the massive overload at the southern border by establishing new ports of entry in Democrat-led communities.”
DeSantis struck a similar chord in taking the action he did on Wednesday to transport the Venezuelan migrants to the Vineyard.
"States like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden administration’s open border policies," DeSantis' communications director, Taryn Fenske, told Fox News.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued a statement Thursday afternoon indicating that he was exploring the possibility of a temporary shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod.
"On behalf of the Commonwealth, I thank everyone on the ground who quickly came together to provide assistance on the Vineyard," Baker said. "The Commonwealth has many resources for assisting individuals that arrive in Massachusetts with varying immigration statuses and needs and is working with all partners involved to make sure those resources are available to the migrants that arrived last night. In addition, the Baker-Polito Administration is exploring setting up temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod and will share additional information as soon as it becomes available."
State Representative Dylan Fernandes, who represents the Vineyard and Nantucket, traveled to the Vineyard on Wednesday and has been sharing updates on the situation via his social media pages. Fernandes, along with state senator Julian Cyr and other Massachusetts politicians have all been weighing-in with statements of support for the migrants, and deep criticisms of DeSantis' decision to transport them unannounced.
"Our island jumped into action putting together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the children, making sure people have the healthcare and support they need," Fernandes said. "We are a community that comes together to support immigrants. The Governor of one of the biggest states in the nation has been spending time hatching a secret plot to round up & ship people-children, families-lying to them about where they're going just to gain cheap political points on Tucker Carlson and MAGA twitter. It's f*****g depraved. These immigrants were not met with chaos, they were met with compassion. We are a community and nation that is stronger because of immigrants. The community coming together with water, food, interpretation help, and resources to support these families represent the best of America."
Democratic Congressman Bill Keating, who also represents the islands in Washington D.C., was similarly critical of DeSantis.
"History does not look kindly on leaders who treat human beings like cargo, loading them up and sending them a thousand miles away without telling them their destination," Keating said. "Still, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made that choice today. Instead of working to find assistance for a group of refugees, Governor DeSantis chose to turn human beings into political pawns. But the people of Martha's Vineyard, its vibrant immigrant community, and the Commonwealth as a whole are already calling Governor DeSantis' bluff and rising to meet the challenge because that's what Americans do - we help those in need. I applaud Governor Charlie Baker for his administration's efforts to step up and assist these refugees despite the lack of notice of their impending arrival, and I am disgusted by Governor DeSantis' decision to prioritize cruelty & chaos over human dignity in today's taxpayer-funded stunt."