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Tears, Uncertainty as Migrants Depart Martha’s Vineyard Amid Political Standoff

The state of Massachusetts transported migrants off the wealthy island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Friday morning, in response to an unusual move by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis to fly them there from the border state of Texas.

About 50 migrants, including some half-dozen children, boarded buses to head to the ferry to Cape Cod, leaving some of the island residents who volunteered to shelter them in a church for two nights in tears.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, said the migrants would be housed temporarily at a Cape Cod military base, organized by state emergency officials.

“I want them to have a good life,” said Lisa Belcastro, who helped organize cots and supplies at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, which sits among expensive white-clapboard homes in Edgartown. “I want them to come to America and be embraced. They all want to work.”

The migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard as part of an escalating effort by Republican governors to call attention to what they view as Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden’s failure to secure the U.S.-Mexico border amid record attempted crossings.

DeSantis, who is running for reelection in November, has taken credit for transporting the migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, though the legal basis for the Florida government to round up migrants in a different state remained unclear.

U.S. government attorneys are exploring possible litigation around the efforts by the governors to move migrants north, a Biden administration official told Reuters.

The flights follow a busing scheme by the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona that has sent more than 10,000 migrants to the Democrat-controlled cities of Washington, New York and Chicago since April.

Immigration is a motivating issue for Republican voters, and the party has sought to focus attention on that issue in the run-up to November 8 midterm elections that will decide control of Congress and key governorships.

The White House has decried the efforts, saying migrants were being used in a political stunt.

U.S. border agents have made 1.8 million arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border since last October. Many migrants are immediately expelled to Mexico or other countries under a COVID-19 pandemic policy. But some nationalities, including Venezuelans, cannot be expelled because Mexico will not accept them.

The migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard said they had recently been admitted into the United States on humanitarian parole after fleeing Venezuela, and had been staying at a shelter in San Antonio, Texas, when they were approached by a woman who identified herself as Perla.

The woman persuaded them to board the flights by misleading them into thinking they were heading to Boston and would be provided shelter and assistance finding work for three months, they said. Many said they told the flight organizers they had appointments with immigration authorities they needed to attend in other cities but were told not to worry, said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, a group in Boston assisting the migrants.

Rallying to help

Martha’s Vineyard is home to about 20,000 year-round residents and is known as a vacation spot for affluent liberals like former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

The migrants arrived without notice on chartered flights Wednesday that landed at the island’s small airport.

Residents lined up at a table to donate money, toiletries and toys for the migrants. A local thrift shop donated clean clothes. Local restaurants took turns organizing meals and a Spanish-language Mass was organized at St. Andrews. Pro-bono lawyers flew in to help the migrants with paperwork and immigration cases.

Chris Stern, a writer who married his wife at the church in 1990, was among those who stopped by to donate.

“I think that they’re using real people as political pawns, almost as a sarcastic joke,” he said. “It’s a cruel way to treat people in a difficult situation.”

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