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DeSantis choosing Martha's Vineyard to send migrants just upped the ante

Unlike New York City or D.C., the island is isolated. It's not easy to jump on public transportation and leave, making it more difficult for a marginalized community. 
Image: Marthas Vineyard
Rafael Eduardo, left, an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela hugs another immigrant outside of the Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, on Marthas Vineyard in Edgartown Mass., on Sept. 15, 2022.Dominic Chavez for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unexpectedly sent two planes carrying mostly Venezuelan immigrants, including children, to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday.

It’s the most sadistic iteration of a scheme preferred by governors of Republican states: dumping migrants on northern progressive cities as a political stunt against President Joe Biden’s immigration policy.

Republican governors have been doing this as a way to protest what they claim are insufficient federal efforts to ensure security on the southern border. It is cynical point-scoring against people they see as woke liberals being soft on immigration — a “gotcha” moment.  

Pictures of migrants holding bags with their few belongings and clutching their exhausted children, and the frazzled residents trying to help them, were precisely what DeSantis intended.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bused migrants out of Texas this year to cities with Democratic mayors — he has sent more than 10,000 migrants to liberal enclaves. On Thursday, Abbot sent two buses of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border and dropped them off near Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington, D.C. He tweeted that he sent the buses to Harris’ backyard “to call on the Biden Administration to do its job & secure the border.” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has also adopted this policy, busing more than 1,800 migrants to Washington

But this latest gimmick by DeSantis seems to have upped the ante. Choosing Martha’s Vineyard, the holiday home of the rich and liberal, an island that is isolated and not exactly easy to leave (compared to a place like New York City or D.C., where buses and trains give one more flexibility to travel around the area and beyond) was undoubtedly a way to make things even more difficult for a marginalized community.

The migrants were kindly greeted on Martha’s Vineyard and received Covid-19 tests, food, clothing and shelter. But resources on the island are scarce. It has a year-round population of about 20,000, and according to a New York Times report, the only homeless shelter is closed during the summer and has room for only 10 people, with one bathroom.

As of Friday, the migrants had been transported to a military base on Cape Cod, where more shelter and humanitarian efforts are being coordinated. 

Pictures of migrants holding bags with their few belongings and clutching their exhausted children, and the frazzled residents trying to help them, were precisely what DeSantis intended. 

Imagine that — $12 million of taxpayers’ money being used for political stunts.

Many conservatives might find this political ploy amusing — the running joke on social media is “tu casa es mi casa” — but this isn’t a laughing matter. In a speech on Thursday at a gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Biden struck back at Republican governors who continue to use this tactic.” Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props. What they’re doing is simply wrong, it’s un-American, it’s reckless,” Biden said.

The two flights were part of a state program to transport undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities, for which the Florida Legislature designated $12 million this year.

Imagine that — $12 million of taxpayers’ money being used for political stunts. Even while facing backlash over the move, DeSantis doubled down on Friday, suggesting that we will see “more and more” flights like these. “I’m going to make sure we exhaust all those funds,” he told reporters. It’s been reported that the migrants said they were unaware that they were going to Martha’s Vineyard, were promised aid and housing and had to walk miles from the airport to seek help. 

As many have pointed out, the similarities between this GOP scheme and that of white segregationists in 1962 are striking. Decades ago, Black Southerners, in so-called Reverse Freedom Rides, were bused and abandoned on Cape Cod. The move was in retaliation for the previous year’s Freedom Rides, a movement in which Black and white civil rights activists protested Jim Crow laws by riding interstate buses together through the South. 

African Americans were deceived by promises of high-paying jobs and free housing up North — and were even told they would meet President John F. Kennedy, who had supported the civil rights movement much to the displeasure of the South. Like we are seeing today, it was an attempt to dehumanize a group of marginalized people and one-up a political opponent. 

Sending people, especially children, to a place they probably had never heard of without telling them where they were going and without letting local authorities know is not only inhumane — it’s immoral. 

To try to justify this kind of nonsense, Republicans claim Biden’s policies encourage migrants to disappear into the U.S. But since he took office, Customs and Border Protection data show that the number of border patrol apprehensions has reached a record high — about 2 million for the 2022 fiscal year to date. 

Perhaps DeSantis sent these planes to Martha’s Vineyard hoping that the visual of immigrants at the doorstep of rich, white liberals would help his political aspirations — all the way to the White House. Whatever the reason, no one should be rewarded with votes for capitalizing on the difficult circumstances these families face. Many Venezuelans make their way to the U.S. after traveling through the Darien Gap, 66 miles of roadless and dangerous jungle. They then make their way north through Central America. For them, life has been about survival. You’d think the pro-life party would be more sympathetic to that.