Republican governors are escalating their partisan tactic of sending migrants to Democratic strongholds without advance warning, including a wealthy summer enclave in Massachusetts and the home of Vice President Kamala Harris, to taunt leaders of immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” cities and stoke opposition to Biden administration border policies.
The governors of Texas and Arizona have sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. in recent months. But the latest surprise moves – which included two flights to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday paid for by Florida – reached a new level of political theater that critics derided as inhumane.
Upon arrival in Martha’s Vineyard, where former President Barack Obama has a home, the migrants who are predominantly from Venezuela were provided with meals, shelter, health care, and information about where to find work.
The vacation island south of Boston, whose year-round residents include many blue-collar workers, appeared to absorb the dozens of arrivals without a major hitch.
Elizabeth Folcarelli, chief executive of the nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, was wrapping up work when she saw 48 Venezuelans with luggage and backpacks approach her office. They carried red folders with brochures for her organization.
“They were told that they would have a job. and they would have housing,” said Ms. Folcarelli, who described the scramble for shelter as a “huge challenge.”
Migrants played soccer and hung out in small groups on the porch of their temporary shelter Thursday while meeting visiting attorneys who gave free advice and other service providers.
Well-wishers dropped off donations, and volunteers signed up to provide whatever help they could offer. There were no signs of protest.
The president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Domingo Garcia, said that some of the migrants sent on buses from Texas to Washington, D.C. were “tricked” – an allegation that The Associated Press has not confirmed and that officials in Texas and Arizona have denied.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the flights to Martha’s Vineyard were part of an effort to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.” The Florida Legislature has earmarked $12 million to transport “unauthorized aliens” out of state.
Mr. DeSantis’ office didn’t answer questions about where migrants boarded planes and how they were coaxed into making the trip.
Massachusetts state Sen. Julian Cyr told The Vineyard Gazette that one plane originated in San Antonio, raising questions about whether migrants ever set foot in Florida. Flight tracking data shows a flight originated in San Antonio, stopped in Crestview, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina, before landing in Martha’s Vineyard.
The two buses of migrants from Texas that arrived early Thursday outside Harris’ residence at the United States Naval Observatory carried more than 1srcsrc migrants from Colombia, Cuba, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela.
“The Biden-Harris administration continues ignoring and denying the historic crisis at our southern border, which has endangered and overwhelmed Texas communities for almost two years,” said Mr. Abbott, who has poured billions of taxpayer dollars into making border security a signature issue.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has publicly feuded with Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Abbott over their conservative policies, on Thursday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether transporting migrants across state lines as “political props” broke the law.
“Transporting families, including children, across state lines under false pretenses is morally reprehensible, but it may also be illegal,” Mr. Newsom wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland that he also posted on his Twitter account.
Without mentioning Mr. DeSantis or Mr. Abbott by name, Mr. Newsom suggested the federal government could bring charges of kidnapping and “civil rights conspiracy” because the migrants were targeted because of their national origin.
After migrants seeking asylum cross the U.S.-Mexico border, they spend time in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility along the border until they are generally released into the U.S. to wait out their cases. Republicans say President Joe Biden’s policies encourage migrants to vanish into the U.S.; Democrats argue the Trump-era policy of forcing migrants to wait out their asylum cases in Mexico was inhumane.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that federal officials were not told in advance by the Republican governors who sent the migrants to Massachusetts and Washington.
“We’re talking about children, we’re talking about families who were promised a home, promised a job, put on a bus, and driven to a place that they do not know,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre, who called the governors’ actions a “cruel, premeditated political stunt.”
Mr. Abbott has bused 7,9srcsrc migrants to Washington since April, later sending 2,2srcsrc to New York. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has bused more than 1,8srcsrc migrants to Washington since May. Passengers must sign waivers that the free trips are voluntary.
About 5srcsrc people seeking asylum in the U.S. have been transported from the border to Chicago by Mr. Abbott since Aug. 31. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday called up 75 members of the Illinois National Guard to help organize shelter, food, and medical care for migrants arriving by bus from Texas.
“To Gov. Greg Abbott: Now is the time to stop trying to sow the seeds of chaos, to put aside politics and focus on human rights, communicate with us, have your state agencies call us back,” Mr. Pritzker said at a Chicago news conference. “Spare us the unnecessary drama and let us go about the work to resettle these asylum seekers.”
Mr. DeSantis appears to be taking the strategy to a new level by using planes and choosing Martha’s Vineyard, whose harbor towns that are home to about 15,srcsrcsrc people are far less prepared than New York or Washington for large influxes of migrants.
Texas and Florida have infuriated officials in destination cities by failing to provide passenger rosters, estimated times of arrival, and other information that would make it easier to prepare. In contrast, Arizona has coordinated with officials in other cities.
Mr. Biden is facing the same challenges that dogged his predecessor, former President Donald Trump: a dysfunctional asylum system in the U.S., and economic and social conditions that are prompting people from dozens of countries to flee.
U.S. authorities stopped migrants crossing from Mexico about 2 million times from October through July, up nearly 5src% from the same period a year earlier. Many are released in the U.S. to pursue their immigration cases because U.S. authorities have struggled to expel them to their countries under a pandemic-era rule that denies them a chance to seek asylum.
Some Republicans celebrated the latest delivery of migrants from border states.
“Welcome to being a state on the Southern border, Massachusetts,” tweeted Mr. DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern.
Stephen Miller, a chief architect of Trump’s immigration policies, said bringing “a few million” migrants to Martha’s Vineyard should transform the island of about 15,srcsrcsrc people into “a modern Eden.”
Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist said Mr. DeSantis is treating the migrants inhumanely. “It’s amazing to me what he’s willing to do for sheer political gain,” Mr. Crist said.
Talia Inlender, deputy director of UCLA’s Center for Immigration Law and Policy, said the flights to Martha’s Vineyard appear to violate Florida law that they be limited to “unauthorized aliens.”
“These folks are not unauthorized,” she said. “They aren’t flying under the radar in any way.”
This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers Steve LeBlanc in Boston; Seung Min Kim in Washington; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Gisela Salomon in Miami; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Paul Weber in Austin, Texas; Adam Beam in Sacramento, California; and John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, contributed.