About 50 Venezuelan migrants, including children, have been moved to a Cape Cod military base after arriving without warning Thursday on Martha's Vineyard aboard two charter flights from Texas that were paid for by the state of Florida.
Massachusetts officials said the migrants will be given shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod as authorities figure out what to do next. Martha’s Vineyard residents and state officials were scrambling to care for the migrants, whose unexpected arrival was criticized by human rights activists and Democrats.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis says he authorized the 1,900-mile flights.
“Florida can confirm the two planes with illegal immigrants that arrived in Martha’s Vineyard were part of the state’s relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations,” DeSantis' communications director, Taryn Fenske, told Fox News Digital.
Where are the migrants from?
A number of Venezuelan nationals told NPR their flight originated in San Antonio, Texas. They were put aboard two chartered Fairchild Dornier 328 jets at Kelly Field, which flew to Crestview, Florida, to refuel.
One of the planes then flew to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., and the other flew to Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport in Spartanburg, S.C., and refueled.
Both planes then flew to Martha's Vineyard, landing within 20 minutes of each other between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Volunteers gave them food, clothing, shelter and medical care.
Were the migrants aware of what was happening?
Several migrants told reporters they boarded the planes in San Antonio after being told they would be offered work. Many believed they were being taken to Boston, they said.
Their arrival surprised local residents. A Martha’s Vineyard Community Services staffer looked up late Wednesday afternoon to find a group of 50 people – men, women and children – after walking a mile to the center’s parking lot, the Cape Cod Times reported.
Cost of the charter flights has not been disclosed. Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature earmarked $12 million to transport "unauthorized aliens" out of state.
"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," Fenske told Fox.
It's legal for states to send migrants to other states, as long as migrants agree to being taken, USA TODAY reported.
On Friday, the group was moved to Joint Base Cape Cod, home to five military commands. State and local officials are coordinating food, shelter and essential services with volunteers, the Dukes County Emergency Management Association said in a release.
Why Martha's Vineyard?
Martha’s Vineyard is an 87-square-mile island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Accessible only by plane or ferry, it's valued for its privacy.
It also has a reputation as a liberal enclave, with some of the most powerful people in the country as homeowners, including former President Barack Obama, and visitors such as Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Where else have migrants been sent?
Since April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, have spent millions sending migrants by bus to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The two states have bused nearly 11,000 migrants to New York and Washington, USA TODAY reported.
- Texas sent 7,500 to Washington and more than 1,800 to New York City.
- Arizona sent more than 1,500 just to Washington.
Abbott sent about 60 asylum-seekers, most of them Venezuelan, from Texas to Chicago in early September.
The relocations are part of Republican state protests against Democratic policies on immigration and a move to increase opposition to President Biden's border programs. Thousands of migrants have been sent in recent months.
Migrants are screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to make sure they're not a security threat, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported.
But some migrants are getting off buses before they reach their destinations, Pew said. Migrants are getting off in red states including Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, prompting complaints by state officials which have limited bus stops.
CONTRIBUTING Gwenn Friss and Denise Coffey, Cape Cod Times
SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; Flightradar24; Associated Press; Pew Charitable Trusts