BOSTON — Migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard this week will be able to move to Joint Base Cape Cod for temporary shelter, and Gov. Charlie Baker will activate up to 125 Massachusetts National Guard personnel to assist the effort, the administration announced Friday.
Officials said they will offer migrants “voluntary” transportation to the base Friday as part of a “comprehensive humanitarian response.” They said the military base is better equipped to handle the roughly 50 migrants from Venezuela who were sent to Massachusetts on flights organized by Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — a move that was assailed by critics as a political stunt.
Mass. Senate President Karen Spilka described the move as “tantamount to a form of human trafficking for pure political games.”
The Cape Cod base has previously served as an emergency shelter for displaced individuals in situations such as the devastation after Hurricane Katrina. It will provide migrants housing in dormitory-style spaces and also has the capacity to provide access to health care and legal services. Interpreters will make all services available in recipients’ native languages.
The move from the Vineyard to the base will be voluntary, and no families will be separated, the Baker administration said.
Islanders “joined with local and state officials to create temporary shelter and provide necessities in a moment of urgent need” following the unexpected arrival of the migrants, but that the Vineyard is “not equipped to provide sustainable accommodation,” Baker’s press office said.
“We are grateful to the providers, volunteers and local officials that stepped up on Martha’s Vineyard over the past few days to provide immediate services to these individuals,” Baker said in a statement.
“Our Administration has been working across state government to develop a plan to ensure these individuals will have access to the services they need going forward, and Joint Base Cape Cod is well equipped to serve these needs.”
Community and political leaders on Martha’s Vineyard scrambled to secure accommodations for about 50 people who were flown to the island on Wednesday.
“Currently immigrants are being dropped off on Martha’s Vineyard by chartered flights from Texas. Many don’t know where they are. They say they were told they would be given housing and jobs,” Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents the island, said on Twitter.
Fernandes said islanders were “given no notice but are coming together as a community to support them.”
On Thursday morning, DeSantis blamed the Biden administration for a surge of illegal immigration and said that, “unfortunately,” a lot of people who cross the southern border want to go to Florida.
“And so we’ve worked on innovative ways to be able to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden’s border policies,” DeSantis said. He added, “If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Times reported that the immigrants are from Venezuela and that the group includes 10 to 12 children. The paper said that Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden spoke to the group outside Martha’s Vineyard Community Services late Wednesday afternoon and said, “We’re going to take care of you.”
The immigrants were taken first to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and then to a church in Edgartown, where they spent the night. Local businesses provided pizza and coffee, and the local newspaper said that no medical issues were reported.
“I am filled with so much admiration for the residents and local leaders of Martha’s Vineyard, who have come together so quickly and so selflessly to help the recently arrived migrants,” said state Senate President Spilka, who thanked the Baker administration for its response, but lashed out at DeSantis.
“It is disgusting and abhorrent that an out-of-state governor has decided to engage in what is tantamount to a form of human trafficking for pure political games,” Spilka said. “In Massachusetts, treating all people with human dignity and respect is paramount to who we are.”
Already a hot-button issue at the national level and in states along the southern border, immigration is primed to be a central part of the Massachusetts political debate leading into the Nov. 8 general election.
The Legislature this year passed a law over Baker’s veto that would allow immigrants who live in Massachusetts without legal status in the country to get a state driver’s license. Opponents easily gathered more than enough signatures to give voters the opportunity to repeal that law on the November ballot. The Republican Party and its gubernatorial nominee Geoff Diehl expect that the repeal effort will gin up enthusiasm for his campaign as he squares off against Democrat Maura Healey.
In a statement Thursday morning, Diehl blamed the Biden administration for a crisis at the southern border and said that when states see an influx of migrants that they “should not be forced to accommodate … governors naturally seek alternatives to protect the people of their state.”
“I applaud the people of Martha’s Vineyard who instantly sprang into action to address this situation as it unfolded. I also lament the fact that a motivating factor in Florida’s decision to relocate immigrants here is that Massachusetts has become a ‘sanctuary state,’ making it a natural destination,” he said.