Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard arrived from Florida, sent by Gov. Ron DeSantis

Gwenn Friss
Cape Cod Times

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add new information and comments from public officials.

MARTHA'S VINEYARD — St. Andrew's Warden Palmer Marrin stood sentry before the door to the church's side room on Thursday in Edgartown.

The 50 migrants — men, women and children as young as 3 — who had spent the night on church property after arriving unexpectedly late Wednesday afternoon on one-way charter flights, walked between the church and the parish house.  

Community organizations and residents had come on Thursday to help, as did students from an advanced placement Spanish class from the high school. The students came with their teacher, Justine DeOliviera, to help with translation.

Community members who were helping the migrants, many if not all of whom are from Venezuela, asked that reporters not speak with the island visitors, citing a concern that the migrants would endanger their situation. 

Attempts by a Times reporter to greet the individuals directly in Spanish were received politely but did not lead to a conversation. 

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DeOliviera politely declined to talk to a reporter, as did the students.

"We're just trying to give them shelter and keep them safe," Marrin said.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, officials were still trying to complete information about the migrants, such as where they came from, what airplane company delivered them unannounced on Wednesday, and what the next steps would be.  

State officials were exploring setting up a temporary shelter and humanitarian services at Joint Base Cape Cod on Thursday for the migrants who with no place to stay.

Outraged Venezuelans in Florida

Late Wednesday, Venezuelan-American leaders in Florida denounced the “flights of asylum seekers” to Martha’s Vineyard, blasting DeSantis. 

“Venezuelan leaders are rightfully outraged,” five Venezuelan-American groups said in a joint statement. They planned a news conference for Thursday morning in South Florida. Karla Hernández, Crist's running mate, will join them. 

The group called the governor’s move a “blatant disregard for human life,” and accused him of lying to Cuban and Venezuelan communities earlier this month, when they said he pledged not to sent migrants from either country out of state. 

DeSantis went to the Texas-Mexico border last year to talk tough on border policy with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. DeSantis also dispatched more than 250 state law enforcement officers with the stated mission of helping Texas stem the influx of migrants and drugs. 

The Florida taxpayer-financed force stayed for several weeks and reported more than 9,000 contacts with migrants at the border. 

Martha's Vineyard residents help out

At about 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, tweeted from the ferry: "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. Islanders were given no notice but are coming together as a community to support them."

Carla Cooper said volunteers ordered pizza, salad and soup to feed the people, aged 3 to adults in their 40s, "who had had no food or water since 6 a.m."

"People were just showing up (at the church) with food, rice and beans," she said. "When something happens to our island, we come together to help. We are going to take care of these people."

Cooper, head of the Democratic Council of Martha's Vineyard, said, "It is disgusting and repulsive that these people were herded like cattle onto a plane, not told where they were going and our community was not notified. This is not a joke, this is insanely ridiculous."

Martha's Vineyard and its residents will take care of the strangers, she said, who all spoke Spanish and were using translation apps on their phones to express their gratitude. 

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Immigrants walked from Martha's Vineyard Airport seeking help

Seadale said the arrivals simply walked out of Martha's Vineyard Airport and went on foot "several miles" to the community service center — across from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School — arriving just as the center was closing. They were taken to Martha's Vineyard Regional High School for a snack, he said, before boarding buses that took them to the church.

St. Andrew's staff has reached out to a contact that works with the island's food banks and the Greater Boston Food Bank about arranging meals for the unexpected arrivals, Seadale said.

"I think anyone hearing about this story who wants to help should pay attention to local news reports," he said, "because we may need meals cooked in the next few days."

Martha's Vineyard officials were not sure where the planes came from

The Martha's Vineyard Times is reporting that West Tisbury Town Administrator Jennifer Rand told selectmen, at their meeting late Wednesday afternoon, that only one plane had landed but more are expected. She and other officials were not sure where the plane or planes had originated.

In an interview with foxnews.com Wednesday evening, Taryn Fenske, DeSantis' communications director, said, "Florida can confirm the two planes with illegal immigrants that arrived in Martha's Vineyard today were part of the state's relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destination." 

Former President Barack Obama owns a home on Martha's Vineyard along with people in the entertainment industry.

DeSantis’ immigration policies include a plan to use $12 million to pay for the transportation of undocumented immigrants dropped in Florida from the U.S.-Mexico border, the Tallahassee Democrat reported last month.

The Biden administration’s border security and immigration policies have become a favorite target for DeSantis and other Republicans nationwide, the paper reported. The debate ratcheted up earlier this year when two GOP governors — Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona — called out Biden and sent busloads of migrants from their border states to New York City and Washington.

By late August, almost 8,000 migrants have arrived on state-sponsored bus trips, straining resources and humanitarian services of both cities, which have also sought assistance from the federal government. 

Contributing: Anne Brennan, Cape Cod Times; John Kennedy, Tallahassee Democrat

Contact Gwenn Friss at gfriss@capecodonline.com. Follow her on Twitter: @dailyrecipe.