Martha's Vineyard lawmaker weighs in on DeSantis flying migrants to island

"We've seen these fundamentally racist and xenophobic tactics before."

ByABC News
September 16, 2022, 4:13 PM

Martha's Vineyard became the latest blue state location targeted by a Republican governor who transported undocumented migrants without any planning or warning to lawmakers.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for flying two planes with migrants to the Massachusetts island Wednesday as social service organizations worked to get the families shelter and food. DeSantis contended that the state claims it's a sanctuary for undocumented migrants, while the White House and local elected officials slammed him for using the families in a political stunt.

State Sen. Julian Cyr, who represents Martha's Vineyard, spoke with ABC News' "Start Here" to weigh in on the situation.

PHOTO: Migrants board a bus back to the mainland from Martha's Vineyard, Sept. 16, 2022.
Migrants board a bus back to the mainland from Martha's Vineyard, Sept. 16, 2022.

START HERE: Senator Cyr, can you just describe when you found out that these migrants had arrived on the island? What happened?

SEN. CYR: I received a call from the sheriff here on Martha's Vineyard, who just an hour earlier, just after a little bit after three in the afternoon, [said] two chartered jets landed at Martha's Vineyard Airport. There was some level of coordination. Actually, a camera crew was on site to film these migrant families who were disembarking from the plane. And these 43 [to] 44 migrants ended up at Martha's Vineyard Community Services unannounced, essentially. There was no notification to officials on Martha's Vineyard or relief to anyone in Massachusetts that these planes were arriving. We've had a tight-knit community here at Martha's Vineyard. This is a small island of about 20,000 people. It's rural. It's actually a lot of working-class folks who actually live out here year-round.

The whole island scrambled with emergency management for first responders, the sheriff's office, community services, Red Cross, [the] Salvation Army and others. [They] basically stood up a shelter to provide food and a good meal and a safe place for these folks to stay. [It was] sort of the equivalent of what we would do in a hurricane or in a nor'easter. [They] did that in a matter of hours and have been taking care of these folks since. But this was something that was completely unexpected. And we've since learned that this appears to be a cruel ruse.

These migrant families were manipulated into boarding these planes [with] commitments, promises were made to them, assurances of work opportunities and others that were not there. And this really sadly appears to be a stunt.

START HERE: Yeah, how [did] you end up on this island if you're one of these migrants?

CYR: So our understanding that's been some really good reporting on this from...WCAI, [who] spent a bunch of time speaking to migrants last night, and we've had conversations with them today. These mostly were Venezuelans who had crossed the border in Texas in recent months. They were in San Antonio, in a shelter in San Antonio. A woman that the migrants referred to as Perla approached them outside of the shelter and essentially recruited them with promises of traveling to this destination.

But they did not necessarily know where they're going. Actually, one of the migrants when we were speaking with them referred to a feeling of essentially being kidnapped. And this clearly appears, especially after seeing what Gov. Ron DeSantis has put out. This appears to be a political move, capitalizing on people in difficult circumstances for sort of a gotcha moment or a political stunt.

PHOTO: Migrants stand outside St. Andrew's Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, Sept. 14, 2022.
Migrants stand outside St. Andrew's Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, Sept. 14, 2022.
Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via Reuters

START HERE: Yet what was your reaction to finding out that this does appear to be a deliberate plan by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said, you guys are talking about straining the system to house all these people, to feed all these people. These are the same complaints we've gotten. Border states like you guys are getting a small taste of what we're dealing with. You guys have a couple dozen now. We're dealing with thousands and thousands across the southern border.

CYR: Unfortunately, we've seen these fundamentally racist and xenophobic tactics before.

If this were about providing relief to border communities overwhelmed or about providing safe harbor and care to these migrants, the way that you do that is [by] reaching out in partnership to other states and localities. There was none of that outreach.

We've actually had experience and have really stepped up in prior years to support migrants in need. Under Gov. Deval Patrick, several years ago, Massachusetts welcomed hundreds of unaccompanied minors who were at the border in coordination with the then-Obama administration. So we've done this sort of work. But unfortunately, we've just, we've seen these fundamentally racist tactics before. And it actually even harkens back to the Civil Rights era.

In the 1960s, segregationists tricked 96 Southern Black families into relocating to Hyannis. Hyannis, of course, [was] close to the then-President John F. Kennedy's home, and [it] was really an attempt by the segregationists to show Northern white liberals as hypocrites. What actually happened to those 96 families [is that] the community responded and rallied around them here on Cape Cod. They helped them find homes [and] get settled. Those families stayed here and are part of our Cape community, decades later, but it's just really a cruel, unfortunate, discouraging and disgusting thing that has happened here in recent days.

START HERE: So what is the plan like? Are you guys planning to keep them in Martha's Vineyard or are you taking them on? Because we've seen this in other cities now, like in Chicago, we just saw a lot of migrants bused up there. And immediately the governor and the mayor there actually dispersed these people, [and] bused them out of Chicago into some suburbs, which raises questions about hypocrisy. If it's bad to shuttle migrants around, then why are you shuttling migrants around there? I mean, are they staying in Martha's Vineyard?

CYR: So our capacity here on the island is limited. The current shelter where they're staying is a church parish that has one bathroom [and] limited showers. This is not going to be sort of a suitable place for people to reside for too, too long.

As I said, we've had experience with this in the past. I expect us to see sort of dusting off that playbook and relying on, you know, the strategies and resources we used to help unaccompanied minors.

It's probably unlikely that the current shelter is going to be able to continue for too many days more, just given the cramped quarters and the limited facilities there.



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