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  • Ruhika Ponda

Migrants Sent to Martha’s Vineyard and Naval Observatory: Political Stunt or Humanitarian Crisis?


On September 14, 2022, about 50 migrants arrived at Martha’s Vineyard, escalating Republicans’ tactics to transport undocumented migrants to northern, typically Democratic states. This was done without warning and left Massachusetts state officials in the dark and unequipped to handle the influx of migrants.


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) soon claimed responsibility for this transportation effort through a statement issued by his communications director, stating that this was a part of a state-funded program to transport migrants to ‘sanctuary states.’


Similarly, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) also sent two buses containing migrants from Texas to the Naval Observatory in Washington D.C., home of Vice President Kamala Harris. Governor Abbott stated via Twitter, “VP Harris claims our border is “secure” & denies the crisis. We’re sending migrants to her backyard to call on the Biden Administration to do its job & secure the border.”


These very public stunts are among the most recent efforts by several GOP Governors, including Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, to make a statement regarding President Biden’s immigration policies. Many of these migrants are Venezuelan and are seeking temporary protected status under President Biden’s recent efforts to expand protection for asylum-seekers who fear persecution. However, Mexico does not accept migrants, and Venezuela does not have an agreement with the United States to accept deportation flights, causing thousands of migrants to seek shelter in U.S. border states.


Political turmoil in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua has resulted in a significant increase in migrants crossing the U.S. border–approximately three times the number of migrants this year compared to the previous fiscal year. The Biden administration recently introduced the possibility of creating a program allowing Venezuelan immigrants to legally reside in the United States, provided that they pass national security screenings and have an American sponsor. The program, “Volunteering for Venezuela,” will be modeled after “Uniting for Ukraine,” which allowed Ukrainian refugees to legally enter the United States with sponsors. This immigration program aims to deter migrants from engaging in dangerous border-crossing methods and provides a quicker alternative to the asylum process, which often takes several years. However, the crisis remains the same: an influx of migrants seeking protection has strained resources in numerous states, specifically “sanctuary states” that have unexpectedly received and sheltered migrants transported from border states.


Many northern states that have received these migrants, such as Massachusetts, New York, along with Washington D.C., do not have the immediate infrastructure to aid scores of people without warning. For example, New York City’s emergency shelter system is overwhelmed. Still, Mayor Eric Adams announced his intention to open more shelters to continue to accept migrants in a briefing on September 15. In addition, Massachusetts State Senator Julian Cyr (D), who represents Martha’s Vineyard, and local officials in Martha’s Vineyard employed emergency response resources to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance.


The migrant bussing crisis is not only a humanitarian issue but has also become a contentious legal issue. Governor DeSantis used funding from the $12 million that the Florida state legislature allocated towards the Department of Transportation to transport migrants. However, it is unclear whether this particular use of the funds was specifically outlined when they were allocated. Moreover, Vertol Systems, the company that flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, has political ties to the Republican party–specifically to Governor DeSantis.


On September 19, Sheriff Javier Salazar of Bexar County, Texas, announced that he opened a criminal investigation into two flights that transported migrants from a San Antonio shelter to Martha’s Vineyard. He believes many migrants were misled and recruited under false pretenses. For example, several migrants recount being approached by a woman named Perla, who promised them monetary resources and jobs in exchange for their cooperation to relocate to northern U.S. cities.


Governor DeSantis is up for reelection this November against Democrat Charlie Crist, and it has been rumored that he will run for president in the 2024 election. All of the GOP state governors that have orchestrated the transportation of migrants are likely looking to garner political attention and make a statement about their stance on immigration. However, the latest escalation of flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a typically affluent area, and Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence, is making a particularly bold statement about the belief that many Democratic leaders are physically disconnected from the heart of the border crisis. This political stunt underscored the governors’ position on immigration but simultaneously created a legal issue and a humanitarian crisis in northern U.S. states.


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