Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida governor say they were misled

MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Mass., Sept. 15 (Reuters) – Some migrants who had flown to the wealthy island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, said Thursday they had been duped about their destination, and Democratic leaders called for an investigation into the Republican’s move. Florida governor to send them there from Texas.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who will be re-elected in November and is seen as a possible presidential candidate in 2024, took credit for the two flights, which originated in San Antonio, Texas, and stopped in Florida on their way to Florida. Martha’s Vineyard.

The White House and residents of the vacation enclave called it a “political stunt” as DeSantis joins Republican governors from Texas and Arizona in sending migrants north. The governors have tried to highlight the differences between the two sides on immigration policies and move care for immigrants to democratic areas.

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For months, Texas and Arizona sent busloads of migrants to the Democrat-ruled cities of New York, Chicago and Washington.

Florida now joins the campaign. Details of how the flights were arranged and paid for remain unclear, as does an explanation as to why Florida moved migrants to Texas. The Florida legislature has allocated $12 million to transport migrants from the state to other locations.

Wednesday’s two flights carried about 50 migrants, mostly Venezuelans, a Martha’s Vineyard Airport official said.

Hours after the planes landed, two buses sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, another Republican running for re-election, dropped off migrants in a Washington neighborhood not far from Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence. .

A Venezuelan migrant who arrived at Martha’s Vineyard identified himself as Luis, 27, and said he and nine family members had been promised a flight to Massachusetts, along with lodging, support for 90 days, help with work permits and English lessons. He said they were surprised when their flight landed on an island.

He said the promises came from a woman who gave her name “Perla,” who approached his family on the street outside a San Antonio shelter after they crossed into Mexico and US border authorities released them with an immigration court date.

He said the woman, who had also accommodated her in a hotel, had not provided a last name or any connection, but had asked them to sign a waiver of liability.

“We’re scared,” he said, adding that he and others felt they had been lied to. “I hope they help us.”

Residents of Martha’s Vineyard gathered to help the confused migrants and offered housing at St Andrews Episcopal Church.

Martha’s Vineyard is best known as a summer retreat populated primarily by affluent liberal Americans, including former President Barack Obama, a Democrat who owns a multi-million dollar vacation home there.

Local residents came by to donate money and children’s toys, while lawyers mobilized to provide free legal aid.

“It’s a stunt to make political points and not care about who gets hurt,” said Mike Savoy, 58, a nurse at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

DeSantis defended the flights, telling a news conference that Democratic US President Joe Biden has “refused to lift a finger” to secure the border.

“We’ve been working on innovative ways to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden’s border policies,” DeSantis said.

White House press officer Karine Jean-Pierre said Republican governors are using migrants as “political pawns.”

LEGAL QUESTIONS

Several Democrats, including Charlie Crist, DeSantis’ opponent in Florida, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, called on federal authorities to investigate.

Massachusetts US attorney Rachael Rollins said at a news conference that her office would “investigate that matter” and speak with the Justice Department.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security last year developed a plan to fly migrants into inner cities in coordination with aid groups to ease pressure on border regions, a Biden administration official told Reuters, requesting anonymity for internal planning. to discuss.

The White House never adopted the idea, according to a second US official familiar with the matter.

Using Florida funds to move migrants from Texas to Massachusetts raises legal concerns, including what information was passed to the migrants before boarding and whether they were coerced, said Santa Clara University immigration law expert Pratheepan Gulasekaram School of Law.

US border agents have arrested 1.8 million migrants at the US-Mexico border since October last year. Many are quickly being expelled to Mexico or other countries under a public health rule introduced in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19.

But hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and others cannot be deported because Mexico refuses to accept them or because they can apply for asylum. read more

Many migrants released from US custody in border states try to move elsewhere to join relatives or find a job. They often have to check in with the U.S. immigration authorities or attend court hearings to gain legal status.

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Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Martha’s Vineyard, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, Andrea Shalal and Mike Scarcella in Washington, Nate Raymond in Boston and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Aurora Ellis, David Gregorio and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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