Why are migrants being flown to Martha’s Vineyard? 

An explainer on the border crisis and how Mass. has been drawn into the fray

Why is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flying immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard?

It appears to be mainly a move made for political gain. DeSantis appears to have flown two planeloads of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard from another state – Texas – with no warning or coordination with officials in Massachusetts. News reports indicate the two flights took off from San Antonio, Texas, for the Vineyard with one making intermediate stops in Florida and South Carolina and the other stopping in Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Who paid for the flights bringing approximately 50 immigrants to the Vineyard?

Florida taxpayers did. The Florida Legislature allocated $12 million earlier this year for such trips, though not necessarily for transporting migrants from another state.

Why did DeSantis arrange the trips?

The Republican governor, who is eyeing a run for president, sees immigration as a promising issue. He issued a statement on Wednesday that said, in part:  “States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration.”

When did this interstate movement of migrants by state leaders begin? 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was the first state leader to “ship” migrants out of his state. Since April, Abbott has claimed credit for busing more than 10,000 migrants to New York City, Washington, DC, and Chicago, according to the Texas Tribune. The Tribune said the move began as a “spring publicity stunt,” but has now caught on with other Republican governors, including DeSantis and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. Abbott has spent at least $12 million so far on the bus trips, the Tribune reports. 

Why was Florida’s governor arranging and paying for charter flights of migrants to the Vineyard that originated in Texas? 

It’s unclear how or why DeSantis took this action involving migrants that were in Texas. When asked if he was involved with the plane flights, a spokeswoman for Abbott offered the following statement: 

 “Our office has had conversations with Governor DeSantis and his team about supporting our busing strategy to provide much-needed relief to our overwhelmed and overrun border communities. Though we were not involved in these initial planes to Martha’s Vineyard, we appreciate the support in responding to this national crisis and helping Texans. Governor Abbott encourages and welcomes all his fellow governors to engage in this effort to secure the border and focus on the failing and illegal efforts of the Biden-Harris Administration to continue these reckless open border policies.”

Why is all of this happening now?

Abbott and DeSantis say they are responding to the Biden administration’s reckless “open borders” policy that is inundating their states with immigrants. 

What has been happening at the US-Mexico border?

Border crossings from Mexico to Texas have increased significantly, but immigrant advocates say there is no “open borders” policy in place. When the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020, the Trump administration invoked a law dating to 1944, Title 42, that allows the banning of migrants from entering the country if it’s determined that doing so could promote the spread of contagious disease. The administration began returning most migrants to their home country or back over the border to Mexico to await any processing of asylum applications or other petitions for entry. In May of this year, the Biden administration sought to end the Title 42 restriction, but that has been delayed by a federal court order sought by several Republican-governed states. 

Since March 2020, more than 2 million expulsions have taken place under Title 42, 400,000 of them during the final nine months of the Trump administration and 1.7 million during the first 18 months of the Biden administration, according to an analysis of Customs and Border Protection Data by CBS News. 

Attempted border crossings, however, have increased under the Biden administration, the result, say immigrant advocates, of a combination of the easing of the pandemic, ongoing crises driving an exodus from countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua, and smugglers telling migrants that they’ll have an easier time gaining entry to the US under the new administration. While most migrant adults without children are still being expelled under Title 42, the Biden administration has expelled only 23 percent of families crossing the border with children compared with 69 percent under Trump during the first months of the pandemic. As a result, more than 900,000 parents and children have entered the country and put into “border custody” under Biden compared with just 25,790 people during the nine months the Trump administration enforced Title 42, according to the CBS analysis.

Aren’t those in “border custody” detained after crossing into the US? 

Sarang Sekhavat of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition said the migrants being bused out of state – and this week flown to Martha’s Vineyard – were likely detained crossing the border into Texas but then “paroled into the country,” which means they were released after declaring they were seeking asylum. He said immigrants are required to provide addresses where they can be reached by immigration courts and schedule check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

What is meant by “sanctuary cities” and “sanctuary states,” the terms Abbott, DeSantis and others use to describe places they are sending migrants?

The term generally refers to communities where local law enforcement officials have said they will not automatically notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials any time they interact with someone who may not be in the country legally. Law enforcement officials in these communities say that approach is critical to getting undocumented immigrants to report serious crimes to police without fear of ICE.  

A spokeswoman for DeSantis said states like Massachusetts can “better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden Administration’s open border policies.” There is, however, nothing designating Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.” Legislation has been introduced – the Safe Communities Act – that would prohibit local law enforcement officials from cooperating with ICE, but it has not been passed so there is no state policy or law that would merit designating Massachusetts such a place.

Danilo Zak, assistant vice president of policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Forum in Washington, said targeting communities that have so-called “sanctuary” policies to receive migrants is a political ploy by DeSantis, Abbott and others, as these migrants are not in need of this so-called “sanctuary” protection. “These people are not undocumented. They’re in the immigration  court process already. ICE already knows where they are,” he said. “It is completely irrelevant whether a jurisdiction is a quote-unquote sanctuary jurisdiction or not.”

Isn’t there some justification to the idea of having other states help shoulder the burden of the influx of migrants coming over the southern border? 

That might make some sense, said Zak, if such efforts were being planned and coordinated among states. But he said that’s not what’s happening. Instead, DeSantis and Abbott are “using these people as props,” Zak said, sending migrants to locations with no warning or attempt to coordinate with officials in those destinations. He said there is an established infrastructure in Texas, consisting of various nonprofits and church groups, which are aided by grants from FEMA, that helps migrants. He said most do not remain there but leave for other areas of the country – often in the Northeast – where they have family. Places like Washington, DC, and New York City don’t have the same infrastructure in place, but with the steady stream of buses Abbott has sent to Washington, Zak said a nonprofit organization there now has received FEMA funding to begin helping with migrant assistance there. 

What is actually happening on Martha’s Vineyard?

Around 50 individuals from Venezuela and Colombia landed with virtually no notice at Martha’s Vineyard Airport at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.They spent two nights at St. Andrews Church in Edgartown.The Vineyard Gazette said a coalition of emergency management officials, faith groups, nonprofit agencies and county and town officials were organizing food, water and shelter for the migrants.

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,” Dylan Fernandes, a state representative whose district includes Martha’s Vineyard, said on Twitter. Leaders on the Vineyard have emphasized that the towns there are compassionate communities that have stepped up to help people in need. 

On Friday, the migrants were voluntarily transported to Joint Base Cape Cod, where the Baker administration said they would be provided with dormitory-style housing, legal services, health care, and food.

How have Massachusetts politicians reacted?

Both Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who is not running for reelection, and Attorney General Maura Healey, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, have stayed away from the politics of the situation in their public statements, instead focusing on how the state is helping the migrants. Baker announced plans to activate the National Guard and provide temporary shelter on a military base on Cape Cod.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Geoff Diehl, the Republican nominee for governor, declined to criticize fellow Republican DeSantis for sending the migrants to Massachusetts, but instead placed the blame on President Biden. Biden, Diehl said in a statement, is “unwilling and unable” to address the crisis at the southern border. “As a result, states across our nation are dealing with an influx of illegal immigrants that they are not equipped to handle and should not be forced to accommodate. When that happens, governors naturally seek alternatives to protect the people of their state,” Diehl said.

Democrats, on the other hand, slammed DeSantis for sending the planes of migrants. “Exploiting vulnerable people for political stunts is repulsive and cruel,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Sen. Ed Markey praised the response of locals on Martha’s Vineyard and said DeSantis “could learn a lesson from Massachusetts on what patriotism and liberty really look like if he weren’t so busy using humans as props in a cruel stunt to buoy his pathetic political aspirations.”