Home / Surprise is key part of migrant travel from Florida, Texas

Surprise is key part of migrant travel from Florida, Texas

Author: RODRIQUE NGOWI, GISELA SALOMON and CLAUDIA TORRENS, AP
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migrant travel
Carlos Munoz reaches out to hug Larkin Stallings of Vineyard Haven, Mass., as the immigrants prepare to leave St. Andrews in Edgartown, Mass., Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took the playbook of a fellow Republican, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, to a new level by catching officials flat-footed in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., with two planeloads of Venezuelan migrants. On Friday, the migrants were being moved voluntarily to a military base on nearby Cape Cod, Mass. (Ron Schloerb/Cape Cod Times via AP)

The chief executive of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work when she looked outside to see 48 strangers at her office with luggage, backpacks and red folders that included brochures for her organization.

The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the wealthy Massachusetts island from San Antonio on Wednesday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said they were told they were going to Boston.

DeSantis took from the playbook of a fellow Republican, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, by surprising Democratic strongholds with large influxes of migrants and providing little or no information.

“They were told that they would have a job and they would have housing,” said Elizabeth Folcarelli, who leads Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and described the scramble for shelter as a “huge challenge.”

Julio Henriquez, an attorney who met with several migrants, said they “had no idea of where they were going or where they were.”

Two flights to Martha’s Vineyard stopped in the Florida Panhandle, Henriquez said. While on board, migrants got brochures and maps of Massachusetts.

An unsigned letter told migrants to notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of address changes, though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is actually responsible for tracking migrants, Henriquez said. “This is terrible advice,” he said.

Many immigrants have appointments with ICE on Monday in San Antonio. Others were ordered to report to immigration authorities in two weeks to three months in cities including Philadelphia and Washington.

U.S. officials told immigration attorneys that required check-ins would be postponed, Henriquez said. Homeland Security officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

In San Antonio, a Latina woman approached migrants at a city-run shelter and put them up at a nearby La Quinta Inn, where she visited daily with food and gift cards, Henriquez said. She promised jobs and three months of housing in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

The woman, who introduced herself to migrants as Perla, promised jobs, housing and support for their immigration cases, said Oren Sellstrom of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which offered free consultations.

The city of San Antonio was unaware of the flights, said Maria Villagomez, deputy city manager.

Pedro Luis Torrelaba, 36, said he was promised work, food and housing. He thought he was going to New York.

“I am not a victim,” he said Friday, expressing gratitude to residents of Martha’s Vineyard for their hospitality. “I simply feel misled because they told a lie and it has come to nothing.”

The migrants were being moved voluntarily Friday to a military base on nearby Cape Cod. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he would activate up to 125 National Guard members to assist the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

DeSantis said Friday that most migrants intended to come to Florida and that the trip to Martha’s Vineyard was voluntary. He did not address the migrants’ claims that they were told they were going elsewhere.

Florida’s governor defended picking up migrants in Texas and vowed to continue transportation to immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

“Our view is that you’ve got to deal with it at the source, and if they’re intending to come to Florida or many of them are intending to come to Florida, that’s our best way to make sure they end up in a sanctuary,” he said.