As advocates decry DeSantis’ move to fly migrants to Mass., Republicans celebrate

DeSantis: ‘We are not a sanctuary state.’

Leaders in South Florida’s Venezuelan-American community gathered in Doral Thursday to denounce Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to send two planes filled with undocumented immigrants to Massachusetts.

DORAL, Fla. – Leaders in South Florida’s Venezuelan-American community gathered in Doral Thursday to denounce Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to send two planes filled with undocumented immigrants to Massachusetts.

The planes, sent to Martha’s Vineyard, contained at least 50 migrants from Venezuela, including men, women and children. DeSantis said he chose Massachusetts because it is a “sanctuary state.”

The choice of Doral by the Venezuelan-American groups was no accident: the city is home to a large Venezuelan-American population.

“This is frankly incomprehensible,” Maria Corina Vegas, with the American Business Immigration Coalition, said. “As a Venezuelan-American, I don’t understand it.”

A statement from DeSantis’ Communications Director Taryn Fenske confirmed that two planes containing immigrants who came into the United States illegally landed in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday.

The statement began:

“I can confirm the two planes with illegal immigrants that arrived in Martha’s Vineyard today were part of the state’s relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations. 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.”

Martha’s Vineyard has styled itself as a “sanctuary destination” that welcomes migrants — a position it took early in former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Last month, DeSantis said “the minute even a small fraction of of what border those towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk.”

That’s not what happened in Martha’s Vineyard, however. Instead, residents rallied to respond, providing food and shelter.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, tweeted: “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. We are a community that comes together to support immigrants.”

Vegas accused DeSantis of “pandering” by criticizing the dictatorial regime of Nicolas Maduro but then turning away those fleeing Venezuela.

“(I’m) really surprised considering, especially the governor, always pandering to communities like mine traumatized by political persecution and violence, and he’s taking the shameless action,” she said.

Noon report:

The Governor of Florida has sent a group of illegal immigrants out of his state and to one he calls a "sanctuary destination."

Lawyers for Civil Rights, based in Boston, said it was providing free legal services — and investigating whether Florida’s governor may have violated human trafficking laws if it turns out any migrants were sent against their will or duped into taking the flights.

Domingo Garcia, the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said that some of the migrants sent on buses from Texas to Washington, D.C. on Thursday were “tricked” — an allegation that AP has not confirmed and that officials in Texas and Arizona have denied.

DeSantis, speaking at an event in the Florida Panhandle, reiterated his reasoning for sending the migrants away.

“If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is: we are not a sanctuary state,” he said. “It’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”

Florida lawmakers funded the move to the tune of about $12 million for charters and planning.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began busing thousands of migrants to Washington in April and recently added New York and Chicago as destinations. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has been busing migrants to Washington since May. Passengers must sign waivers that the free trips are voluntary.

DeSantis, who is mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, appears to be taking the strategy to a new level by using planes and choosing Martha’s Vineyard, whose harbor towns that are home to about 15,000 people are far less prepared than New York or Washington for large influxes of migrants.

U.S. authorities stopped migrants crossing from Mexico about 2 million times from October through July, up nearly 50% from the same period a year earlier. A rule in effect since March 2020 that suspends rights to seek asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19 applies to all nationalities in theory but has been largely limited to migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador because those are the only ones accepted by Mexico.

In July, less than 4 of every 10 stops at the Mexican border were subject to expulsion under the pandemic rule, known as Title 42. Many from Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and elsewhere were released in the United States to pursue their immigration cases. U.S. authorities have struggled to expel them to their countries because of costs, strained diplomatic relations or other considerations.

Some Republicans celebrated the latest delivery of migrants from border states to sanctuary cities.

“Welcome to being a state on the Southern border, Massachusetts,” tweeted DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern.

Stephen Miller, a chief architect of Trump’s immigration policies, said bringing “a few million” migrants to Martha’s Vineyard should transform the island of about 15,000 people into “a modern Eden.”

Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist said DeSantis is treating the migrants inhumanely. “It’s amazing to me what he’s willing to do for sheer political gain,” Crist said.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."