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Florida Sends Planes Carrying Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. Here’s What to Know

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On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized two charter planes to fly about 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard—a move that came as a shock to the Martha’s Vineyard community who didn’t initially know who sent them, according to local authorities

“Our island jumped into action putting together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the children, making sure people have the healthcare and support they need. We are a community that comes together to support immigrants,” Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted about the arrivals.

The governor’s move escalates a trend in the GOP of shuttling busloads of migrants to self-proclaimed sanctuaries like New York and Washington D.C. because he believes “every community in America should be sharing in the burden,” especially ones that support open-border policies, DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday. The decision serves as a protest to President Biden’s immigration policies, which are considerably more lenient than former President Trump’s.

Here’s what to know.

What happened when the migrants arrived?

The migrants received Covid-19 tests, food and hygiene items upon landing, but the island’s resources are limited. The migrants, few of whom speak English and who are mostly from Venezuela, according to the New York Times, have been relocated to a church on the island in the meantime. The migrants reportedly wandered for three miles from the landing site until they ran into locals, according to CBS Boston. Local Spanish-speaking high schoolers were recruited as translators to communicate with the migrants.

“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 Island Wide Regional Emergency Management said in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”

Martha’s Vineyard is a popular vacation destination in New England with a year-round population of only 20,000. The island’s lone homeless shelter doesn’t operate in the summer and has a capacity of 10 people, the New York Times reported. The island is also geographically isolated and does not have comparable immigration services to urban centers that typically advertise themselves as sanctuaries nor a Justice Department immigration court for asylum hearings.

What Ron DeSantis has said

The Florida state legislature approved $12 million in spending this year to transport undocumented migrants to so-called sanctuaries,, and the two planes to Martha’s Vineyard were a part of this program, according to Fenske, the New York Times reported.

“We take what’s happening at the southern border very seriously,” DeSantis said on Thursday. “We’ve worked on innovative ways to be able to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden’s border policies.”

DeSantis touted how popular a destination Florida is for Americans, tourists and illegal immigrants, “We are just the one state that everybody wants to come to,” DeSantis said.

The migrants lured to Martha’s Vineyard were residing in San Antonio, not Florida, NPR reports, which raises questions if DeSantis’ plan was purely a political statement. Some of the migrants told NPR they were approached by a woman in San Antonio outside a shelter who said that a plane could take them to Boston where they could get expedited work papers.

“We are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction,” Desantis said. “The chance that they come to Florida goes down dramatically.”

Is Massachusetts a sanctuary?

There’s no set legal definition of what makes a sanctuary jurisdiction, however, about 11 states and more than 180 cities throughout the country, predominantly in liberal areas such as the northeast and northwest, self-identify as “sanctuaries” who welcome undocumented immigrants because of their lack of cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

In 2017, a Massachusetts high court ruled that Massachusetts law enforcement does not have the authority to arrest individuals who are suspected to be in the U.S. illegally unless they face criminal charges. This law helped welcome migrants to the state, ensuring a higher standard of safety and access to social services than most places during the Trump-era immigration crackdown. However, Boston and a handful of nearby townships have been the ones to lead the charge on identifying themselves and Massachusetts as sanctuaries, much more so than rural or small-town Massachusetts.

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