DeSantis’ decision to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a summertime enclave for the national elite, drew a particularly harsh rebuke from Democrats who said Florida’s governor went too far. President Joe Biden said late Thursday that the administration has a process in place for migrants at the border and that Republicans should not interfere with “political stunts.”
“Republicans do politics with human beings, using them as props. What they are doing is just plain wrong,” he said at a gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The Republican governors’ decisions came just months before the 2022 midterm elections. Immigration continues to be a burning issue for many Republicans, including in Texas and Florida, where DeSantis and Abbott seek to be re-elected. The way governors are using immigration to drum up support is reminiscent of how Republicans in 2018, including former President Donald Trump, used migrant caravans from Central America to stoke fear in a bid to retain their majority in Congress.
The actions of Republican governors this week follow months of similar transports by Abbott, which sent thousands of migrants from the southern border to blue cities like Chicago, New York and Washington. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey also ferried undocumented immigrants to the nation’s capital.
DeSantis convinced the Republican-led Florida Legislature this year to set aside $12 million to fund attempts to move migrants to other states. The governor also said he was prepared to bus undocumented immigrants to Biden’s home state of Delaware.
But at least three government officials said they were seeking advice from the Justice Department on whether the transports were legal.
California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who are seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said separately on Thursday that they had asked the DOJ to probe DeSantis on migrants being sent to Massachusetts. . Similarly, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said her office plans to speak to the Justice Department about transportation.
“We are reviewing this matter and will speak with members of the Ministry of Justice. Massachusetts isn’t the only place this has happened,” she told a news conference. “We have several other sister communities, whether it’s DC, New York, California, where we’ve seen things like this, and we’re hoping to get some input from the Justice Department on what our next steps might be, the optionally. at all.”
At a Thursday press conference in Florida, DeSantis defended the decision to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, saying the state was helping to “facilitate” those who want to go to what he called a “jurisdiction sanctuary”.
Yet the situation on the ground at Martha’s Vineyard was far from what the governor described.
“None of them wanted to come to Martha’s Vineyard,” Lisa Belcastro, manager of Harbor Homes Winter Shelter on the island, which is home to about 17,000 residents during the off-season, told Edgartown on Thursday. “They’ve never heard of Martha’s Vineyard.”
The arrival of about four dozen migrants, including a child who an official said needed medical attention, has stunned local officials on the island, which faces a housing crisis as its population grows. The resort community has become a vacation home for world luminaries, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Local officials said they received little notice of the flights.
“It’s pretty disgusting to see politicians taking advantage of the difficult circumstances these families find themselves in for a ‘gotcha’ moment and a political stunt,” Julian Cyr, the state senator who represents Martha’s Vineyard, said in a statement. an interview.
The migrants were housed overnight at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown and at his parish house across the street, which serves as a homeless shelter in the winter but is usually closed in the summer. Newcomers spent the night on cots in a small chapel behind the church or in a crowded back room at the back of the parish house.
Susan Church, a prominent Cambridge-based immigration lawyer, said in an interview that local lawyers work with advocacy groups including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, American Civil Liberties Union and Mass Law. Reform Institute to assist migrants with visa processing and to possibly examine “whether or not it was a crime, and whether or not individuals were tricked into boarding an airplane by lies and deceit “.
Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the state is considering opening temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod.
“The Commonwealth has many resources to help people arriving in Massachusetts with different immigration statuses and needs and is working with all partners involved to ensure these resources are available for migrants who arrived last night,” said said Baker.
But the moderate Republican governor — who is often loath to engage in national politics, especially the rifts within his own party — avoided acknowledging DeSantis in his first public comment on the arrival of the migrants.
On Thursday morning, the streets around the parish where the migrants were staying were busy with journalists, community volunteers and townspeople passing by with food deliveries and trash bags of blankets and clothes. Cars drove slowly past the church through the narrow streets of Edgartown.
“You have come to the right place!” shouted a driver.
“Send them to the Obamas,” another shouted from a van window. “This is America. You are illegal.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday called DeSantis’ decision inhumane and a “master plan” to wreak havoc in blue cities.
New York has seen a surge in the number of asylum seekers who also need housing, transported by Abbott since at least early August. Adams estimated on Thursday that some 11,000 homeless people arrived in New York as a result. And that puts immense pressure on the homeless shelter system.
The city has twice violated a local right to housing law in recent weeks, after failing to promptly house shelter seekers. The shelter system, which currently serves more than 55,000 people, was showing cracks before the influx.
“We’re not going to be like these municipalities and states where we take people to Martha’s Vineyard, where we put people on buses and prevent them from getting the basic items they need,” he said. declared. “It’s a crisis.”
Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Abbott, said Thursday that her office had spoken with the DeSantis team to “support our bus strategy,” but that they were not directly involved in the theft.
Speaking of migrants transported through Texas, Eze said migrants voluntarily choose to go to Washington, New York or Chicago and sign a voluntary consent release available in multiple languages when boarding a bus.
Eze said the buses are stocked with food and water and make stops throughout the trip to refuel and change drivers. Migrants are allowed to disembark buses and pick up supplies along the way.
Shia Kapos, Kelly Hooper and Janaki Chadha contributed to this report.