By Rich McKay and Ted Hesson (Reuters) – Some residents of the wealthy liberal enclave of Martha’s Vineyard decried a move by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to fly dozens of migrants to the vacation island as a political “stunt,” as local officials and volunteers scrambled to help the confused new arrivals. DeSantis took credit […]
Republican governor of Florida flies migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in political ‘stunt’
By Rich McKay and Ted Hesson
(Reuters) – Some residents of the wealthy liberal enclave of Martha’s Vineyard decried a move by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to fly dozens of migrants to the vacation island as a political “stunt,” as local officials and volunteers scrambled to help the confused new arrivals.
DeSantis took credit for the two flights, which originated in San Antonio, Texas, according to data from flight tracking website FlightAware. Geoff Freeman, the Martha’s Vineyard airport director, said the flights were carrying around 50 migrants and according to local news reports, most were Venezuelan.
The high-profile move comes as DeSantis seeks re-election in November and has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2024. It mirrors campaigns by the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona to push responsibility for a record number of border arrivals to Democratic strongholds across the United States, including Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.
But unlike those other destinations, Martha’s Vineyard is a small island in Massachusetts – south of Boston – and best known as a summer respite for affluent Americans, including former President Barack Obama, a Democrat who owns a multi-million dollar vacation home there.
Mike Savoy, 58, a nurse at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, donated all the extra COVID-19 tests he had on hand to help the arriving migrants get tested.
“This is hurting people. It’s a stunt to make political points and not caring about who gets hurt. These people were told they were going to get housing and jobs and were dropped off to an island community that has limited resources,” Savoy said.
Residents are rallying to do their best to help the migrants, housing them at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, where people are dropping off food and other supplies, he said.
“I understand there’s an immigration crisis and we should all bear some of the pain until there’s a coherent policy. But to do an unannounced trip is cruel.”
Neither Massachusetts government nor Martha’s Vineyard local officials immediately responded to requests for comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
DeSantis first raised the idea of sending migrants to the island late last year. He also suggested at the time that he could send migrants to Delaware, the home state of U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat whose immigration policies DeSantis and other Republicans oppose.
Reuters polling shows that immigration is a motivating issue for Republicans and the party has sought to draw attention to it in races across the country.
The Florida legislature appropriated $12 million to transport migrants living in the United States illegally from the state to other locations in its most recent session, DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in a statement.
“States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country,” Fenske said.
Some 1.8 million migrants were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year, which began last October, but many have repeatedly crossed and are quickly expelled to Mexico or other countries under a public health rule implemented in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants who cannot be expelled — including many Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans — because Mexico will not accept them, or because they have been granted exceptions, are allowed into the United States to pursue their asylum claims.
DeSantis said in a news conference on Thursday that Biden “has refused to lift a finger” to secure the border.
“We’ve worked on innovative ways to be able to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden’s border policies,” he said without directly referring to the flights.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, another Republican facing reelection in November, has bused more than 10,000 migrants from his state to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago since April.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Aurora Ellis)