State and Island officials, faith-based groups, nonprofit agencies and volunteers rallied quickly to accommodate 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants who arrived unexpectedly at Martha’s Vineyard Airport Wednesday, part of a coordinated political campaign to divert migrants from border states.

In a statement emailed to media outlets, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed that the airlift “was part of the state’s relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.”

The migrants, including seven children, were being housed temporarily at St. Andrews Church in Edgartown while efforts were underway to figure out a longer-term relocation plan. Immigration lawyers from off-Island were brought in, and Spanish language translators, including students from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, were assisting.


Migrants arrived on the Island without notice on Wednesday afternoon. — Ray Ewing

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Attorneys “are meeting with each person individually,” said Janet Constantino, a coordinator with the Island Counseling Center. “A lot of them have dates with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), so they are trying to figure out when the court cases can be rescheduled.”

Ms. Constantino added that Martha’s Vineyard Community Services had purchased numerous smartphones for the migrants so they could check in with their families.

“Some of them have not spoken to their families in months,” she said.

After a stop at community services, they moved across the street to the regional high school. — Ray Ewing

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers for Civil Rights based in Boston, addressed the group at large from the grounds of St. Andrew’s Church. 

“Particulars are too early to say,” Mr. Espinoza-Madrigal said. “But the church and Martha’s Vineyard has really stepped up to protect their rights. It’s been incredible."

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration was exploring setting up temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod.

“The commonwealth has many resources for assisting individuals that arrive in Massachusetts with varying immigration statuses and needs and is working with all partners involved to make sure those resources are available to the migrants that arrived last night,” he said.

Later Thursday afternoon, Island officials met with representatives from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to discuss next steps.

Superintendent of schools Richie Smith, Oak Bluffs chief of police Jonathan Searle, community services CEO Beth Folcarelli. — Ray Ewing

Following the closed-door meeting, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes said the Joint Base "was being strongly considered" as a longer-term housing option.

"I think we're moving toward a long-term solution very quickly," he said.

Congressman Bill Keating, speaking to the Gazette by phone from Washington, said many of the migrants are eager to make their way off the Island.

“People are very anxious to leave,” he said, noting that many thought they were going to Boston. He added that none of the group had planned to arrive on the Vineyard, and state and federal agencies were working together to connect people with friends and family members in the United States.

Scene was chaotic Wednesday evening but soon settled down. — Ray Ewing

Mr. Keating joined in a chorus of local and federal politicians who have condemned the move by Governor DeSantis.

"I just think it is a cynical way to advance his own thing at taxpayers' expense," he said. 

Harbor Homes shelter manager Lisa Belcastro, who was overseeing the relief effort at St. Andrew’s, praised the community’s outpouring of support.

“We have literally everything we need right now,” she said. “This place is a stopgap — it is not a long-term solution. The challenge is at some point we have to move these people . . . we can’t house anyone here.”

She continued tearfully: “Every single person has come up and said they want a job; they are not looking for a handout. Some of these people have been through horrific things. They need a break. They need help.”

On Thursday, supplies began to arrive from all over the Island.

Ms. Belcastro added that St Augustine’s Church in Vineyard Haven was ready in case another influx of migrants should arrive.

Airport director Geoff Freeman said that the migrants arrived Wednesday afternoon on two planes belonging to the charter company Ultimate Air. According to flight plans available online, both planes originated in San Antonio, Tex., and stopped in Crestview, Fla., en route to Martha’s Vineyard. One made an additional stop in South Carolina and the other in North Carolina.

“We thought it was a typical charter,” Mr. Freeman said, adding that private planes carrying visitors on corporate and golf retreats are common this time of year. It wasn’t until the planes touched down that airport personnel discovered they were filled with migrants, he said.

Mr. Freeman said two vans were waiting at the airport and took the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. He did not know who arranged the van transport.

“They came with folders with a pamphlet with our information,” said Beth Folcarelli, chief executive officer of MV Community Services. “We don’t have refugee services. I had no idea about any of this. I only found out because one of them gave me their folder. Imagine being dropped in here knowing no one. Absolutely no one. It’s heartbreaking.”

Impromptu soccer games have helped pass the time. — Ray Ewing

A migrant who asked not to be identified said through an interpreter that a woman in Texas who called herself Perla approached him and his family, saying she was from an immigration organization that could connect them with sanctuary cities in Massachusetts. He said he has an immigration court date on Sept. 21 in Los Angeles.

“I think this is all a ploy to get us to miss our court dates so we get in trouble with the law and they can deport us,” he said. 

Noah Glasgow, Thomas Humphrey and Aidan Pollard contributed reporting. 

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