Migrants sent by Gov. DeSantis to Martha’s Vineyard depart for Cape Cod

Massachusetts authorities announced Friday that they will move approximately 50 migrants from the island of Martha’s Vineyard to a military base in Cape Cod so they can find shelter and chart next steps. The move is voluntary for the migrants, the state said.

Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said the migrants will be offered “shelter and humanitarian supports” in dormitory-style rooms at Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne. State and local officials will also ensure migrants have food, shelter and other services. Baker said he plans to activate up to 125 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to aid in the relief effort.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) surprised federal and state officials on Wednesday by sending migrants who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to the affluent resort island. The move is part of an ongoing campaign by DeSantis and other Republican governors in Texas and Arizona to send migrants to Democrat-heavy cities such as Washington, New York and Chicago to publicize soaring numbers of crossings this year on the southern border.

Many migrants might have ended up in these states anyway, but the unexpected arrivals are catching locals off guard and sending them scrambling to find supplies and shelter for the newcomers. Many of the migrants are from Venezuela, a South American nation that has been engulfed in a political and economic crisis, with shortages of food, water and electricity.

In a speech at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual gala on Thursday night, Biden lashed out at Republicans.

“Instead of working with us on solutions, Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props,” he said. “What they’re doing is simply wrong, it’s un-American, it’s reckless.”

But Republicans defended the action, saying border cities were experiencing influxes in even greater numbers. Federal border agents have made nearly 2 million apprehensions on the southern border this fiscal year, exceeding last year’s total.

“If there is a humanitarian crisis in Martha’s Vineyard, wouldn’t it stand to reason there is a drastically more significant humanitarian crisis at the Southwest border?” the House Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee tweeted Friday.

State and local politicians in Massachusetts praised the response on Martha’s Vineyard, an offshore island accessible only by air and sea, where volunteers turned out in droves to assist the migrants when they showed up carrying maps and a few belongings. Some said they had expected to arrive in a bigger city, close to public transportation, and not a small island of 20,000 people.

The state said “the island communities are not equipped to provide sustainable accommodation.”

The military base is already used as an emergency shelter and officials said it can provide “safe temporary accommodation appropriate for the specific needs of families and individuals.”

The facility also has space for access to legal services and healthcare. In the past the base has sheltered Louisiana residents who fled Hurricane Katrina and Massachusetts residents affected by covid.

“We are grateful to the providers, volunteers and local officials that stepped up on Martha’s Vineyard over the past few days to provide immediate services to these individuals,” Baker said in a statement.

“While Wednesday’s arrival on Martha’s Vineyard was unexpected, the extraordinary response was not,” Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy said. “The work of so many state and local partners exemplify the best values of our Commonwealth, providing safe shelter, food and care for individuals that had been through a long harrowing journey.”

State official’s said they had a plan to assist the migrants who decide to stay on the base, including shelter, clothing, personal hygiene kits, good, and access to health care, mental health, and counseling in their native language. The base is unable to accept donations, officials said.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston and Joanna Slater in Williamstown contributed to this report.

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