BOSTON (SHNS) – While efforts continued on Martha’s Vineyard to adapt to the unexpected arrival of about 50 Venezuelan migrants to the island, Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration was thinking about setting the group up at a Cape Cod military base for the time being.
The first comment from Baker since the migrants landed on Martha’s Vineyard on flights organized by Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and a Republican with presidential aspirations, steered completely clear of the political undercurrents and instead focused on how the Venezuelans were welcomed in Massachusetts and how the state plans to assist them.
“On behalf of the Commonwealth, I thank everyone on the ground who quickly came together to provide assistance on the Vineyard. 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,” Baker said in a statement released by his press office. The governor did not release a public schedule for Thursday.
The governor said his administration was “exploring setting up temporary shelter and humanitarian services” at Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne and said he would release more information when it was available.
Axios Boston reported that Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders had arrived in Edgartown around noon Thursday to meet with volunteers. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she had “discussed potential options for federal resources with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.”
Politico reported that DeSantis’ office confirmed that the planes of roughly 50 people were sent to Massachusetts on behalf of what the governor’s office called Florida’s “relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.”
On Thursday morning, DeSantis blamed the Biden administration for a surge of illegal immigration and said that, “unfortunately,” a lot of people who cross the southern border want to go to Florida.
“And so we’ve worked on innovative ways to be able to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden’s border policies,” DeSantis said at a press conference about trucking in Niceville, Fla. He added, “If you have folks that are inclined to think Florida is a good place, our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.”
What makes a state a “sanctuary state” is not plainly defined and while the label has generated considerable debate on Beacon Hill in recent years, Massachusetts has not formally adopted it for itself.
The closest thing may be the so-called Safe Communities Act, a perennial piece of legislation that would restrict local and state law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The bill has repeatedly encountered a cascade of criticism and pushback, and Baker vowed to veto it had it ever reached his desk.
And last September, Baker joined Republican governors — including DeSantis — in requesting a meeting at the White House to “bring an end to the national security crisis created by eight months of unenforced borders … A crisis that began at our southern border now extends beyond to every state and requires immediate action before the situation worsens.”
DeSantis critics said Thursday that most of the migrants transported to Massachusetts were fleeing the dictatorship of Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro, whom DeSantis has repeatedly castigated, the News Service of Florida reported.
“As a Venezuelan-American myself, I was heartbroken. These are Venezuelan asylum seekers who are escaping the Maduro regime. This is a new low, even for this governor,” Maria Corina Vegas, Florida deputy state director for the American Business Immigration Coalition, said. She pointed out that the flights took place the day before the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and accused DeSantis of “trafficking” migrant children, News Service of Florida said.
Baker’s thought to relocate the Venezuelans to Joint Base Cape Cod is not the first time a governor has considered using the base to temporarily house migrants. In 2014, Gov. Deval Patrick drew blowback from local leaders and Republicans when he offered to house up to 1,000 migrant children from Central America in a temporary shelter at either Joint Base Cape Cod or Westover Air Base in Chicopee.
Baker, who was making his second (and ultimately successful) run for governor that year, said each state should pitch in to help the unaccompanied minors as long as it was a temporary solution. Candidate Baker said it would be up to the federal government, then led by President Barack Obama, to tell each state “what the ultimate outcome will be for every child.”
“While this situation clearly demands action, Massachusetts cannot afford to become the steward or the financier of services for these children as the Commonwealth is currently caring for thousands of homeless families in motels, and our broken DCF system is barely able to serve our most vulnerable kids,” Baker said at the time, according to News Service reporting.
About three weeks later, the Obama administration notified state officials that it was going to discontinue the use of military bases as temporary shelters for unaccompanied minors and Patrick’s offer did not become reality.
Politics of Immigration Policy
Already a hot-button issue at the national level and in states along the southern border, immigration is primed to be a central part of the Massachusetts political debate leading into the Nov. 8 general election.
The Legislature this year passed a law over Baker’s veto that would allow immigrants who live in Massachusetts without legal status in the country to get a state driver’s licenses. Opponents easily gathered more than enough signatures to give voters the opportunity to repeal that law on the November ballot. The Republican Party and its gubernatorial nominee Geoff Diehl expect that the repeal effort will gin up enthusiasm for his campaign as he squares off against Democrat Maura Healey, the attorney general.
In a statement Thursday morning, Diehl blamed the Biden administration for a crisis at the southern border and said that when states see an influx of migrants that they “should not be forced to accommodate … governors naturally seek alternatives to protect the people of their state.”
“I applaud the people of Martha’s Vineyard who instantly sprang into action to address this situation as it unfolded. I also lament the fact that a motivating factor in Florida’s decision to relocate immigrants here is that Massachusetts has become a ‘sanctuary state,’ making it a natural destination,” he said.
Healey did not tweet about the ongoing situation Thursday and her gubernatorial campaign, which might have shed light on her approach to the situation if she were governor, referred a News Service inquiry to the attorney general’s office. MassLive reported that the attorney general’s office said it was “in touch with state and local partners to offer support and resources as needed” and was “working to get more information about this situation.”
The Mass. Republican Party weighed in on the situation Thursday morning by pointing out that cities along the Mexican border face larger waves of migrants each day.
“El Paso is averaging an influx of 1300 per day, and you’re melting down because 50 migrants were delivered to one of the richest zip codes in America,” MassGOP tweeted Thursday in response to Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents the Vineyard. The party then added, “Martha’s Vineyard is 90 percent white/caucasian. Last night was a triumph for diversity.”
For the most part, Democrats blasted DeSantis for what many likened to human trafficking and emphasized that immigrants are welcome in Massachusetts.
“It is disgusting and abhorrent that an out-of-state governor has decided to engage in what is tantamount to a form of human trafficking for pure political games,” Senate President Karen Spilka said.