Migrants’ plane lands on Martha’s Vineyard: island mobilizes, with many unanswered questions

Emergency bedding set up at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown for the refugees to spend the night. (Eve Zuckoff/ CAI)

About 50 migrants, most from Venezuela, including children, arrived by chartered plane on Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday afternoon. Surprised island officials scrambled to care for them.

The migrants’ arrival on the island is apparently part of a larger tactic by Republican-led states to transport immigrants to so-called liberal states as a protest over the Biden administration’s border policies.

Breakfast is set up outside this morning for the people who spent the night in the shelter. (Eve Zuckoff/ CAI)

State officials are meeting this morning to discuss a plan for how to help the migrants who arrived yesterday.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes says officials are looking for a long-term solution. In the meantime, they are looking for immigration attorneys to help migrants potentially get visas. Fernandes says there has been no coordination from Florida or Texas, states that apparently collaborated to send the migrants to the island, and no forewarning that the planes would be arriving.

The Florida legislature set aside $12 million dollars to transport migrants out of state.

Migrants settle in for the night

One of the children passing the evening at the shelter at St Andrew’s Church after dinner. (Eve Zuckoff/ CAI)

Wednesday 10:30pm

The landing of the migrants at the island’s airport surprised local officials. They were initially taken to the high school, and then later brought to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, where they were provided with places to sleep for the night.

According to one member of the group, Eduardo, 25, all but one of the approximately 50 migrants are from Venezuela; the remaining traveler, he said, is from Peru.

The group includes men, women, and children, and the members seem exclusively to speak Spanish.

At St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church they were provided with two sleeping accommodations: one facility for families and women and children, and a separate facility for single men. Islands officials provided them pizzas for dinner.

The travelers seemed uncertain of where they were and why they had been transported to Martha’s Vineyard.

Island officials scramble to feed and shelter migrants

The Island Wide Regional Emergency Management issued this statement at 4:13pm:

“At 3pm. today approximately 50 individuals, to the best of our knowledge originating from Venezuela, landed at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, seeking shelter. This is an ongoing situation; Town Emergency Management Operations from the six Island towns and the Sheriff’s Office, as well as County Management are actively collaborating to develop a coordinated regional response. The group in question have been provided food, water, and emergency stabilization sheltering for the evening. Two emergency shelters have been established at local Island churches, with additional space available in case further arrivals occur.

We have reached out to our State and Federal partners for additional and long term support and assistance. All activated local Emergency Management will remain in effect as we learn more and anticipate our State partners’ coordinated response.”

‘Their needs are immense’

Lisa Belcastro, a coordinator for the island’s homeless shelter, was assisting in the response. She said the migrant group arrived with very little, so volunteers needed to assess quickly what they needed: “Everything from beds to food to clothing to toothbrushes, toothpaste, blankets, sheets.” While some items were on hand, she said, because a winter homeless shelter is run out of St. Andrew’s, still they lacked sufficient quantities.

“Their needs are immense right now,” Belcastro said. And she pointed out the limitations of the facilities at the church. “This is definitely a temporary shelter. I mean, we have one shower. So if you do that math, this is not an indefinite situation. So we have a meeting tomorrow, and we’re going to discuss a plan on what we can do to help them.”

Belcastro said the migrants were each screened for COVID and all of them tested negative.

‘Cheap political points’

The New York Times is reporting that the migrants were transported from San Antonio, Texas, as part of a strategic political program, by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Representative Dylan Fernandes, of the Cape and Islands, said on social media that the migrants were told by the people who put them on planes that they would be given housing and jobs. He said islanders had no notice of their arrival but were coming together as a community to support them.

Island volunteers who speak Spanish, including some high schoolers, helped facilitate the effort to provide the group with food and shelter.

Edgartown police chief Bruce McNamee told CAI that a number of the migrants seemed not to know where they had landed, or how they had been sent here.

The migrants’ arrival on the island is reportedly part of a larger tactic by Republican-led states to transport immigrants to so-called liberal states as part of a protest over the Biden administration’s border policies.

Representative Fernandes called the move by the Florida governor: “a secret plot to round up & ship people — children, families — lying to them about where they’re going just to gain cheap political points.”

This story was originally published by CAI Cape and Islands, a partner of the New England News Collaborative.