“Evil and inhumane”: DeSantis trolls Martha’s Vineyard with planes of migrants — but locals step up

DeSantis tried to one-up GOP governors with latest stunt but local leaders say residents called his "bluff"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published September 15, 2022 9:29AM (EDT)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop at the Horsepower Ranch in Geneva. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop at the Horsepower Ranch in Geneva. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday claimed credit for sending two planes carrying migrants to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

DeSantis, apparently seeking to one-up Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who have sent buses carrying migrants to Democrat-led cities that have expressed support for migrant protections regardless of their status, sent two planes carrying undocumented migrants to Massachusetts, which has a Republican governor. A spokesperson for DeSantis said the governor is targeting locations with "sanctuary" policies as part of a $12 million program the state authorized to remove undocumented migrants, according to Fox News, which first reported the stunt.

"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 through their designation as 'sanctuary states' and support for the Biden Administration's open border policies," DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske told the outlet.

DeSantis, who is running for re-election and has been widely discussed as a potential 2024 presidential contender, previously threatened to send migrants to Democrat-led states and sued the Biden administration over immigration enforcement.

About 50 migrants from Venezuela and Colombia traveling from San Antonio through Florida arrived at Martha's Vineyard Airport on Wednesday, according to local news reports.

Massachusetts state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat, decried the stunt as "evil and inhumane" but touted local support for the new arrivals.

"Many don't know where they are. They say they were told they would be given housing and jobs," he tweeted. "Islanders were given no notice but are coming together as a community to support them."

A spokesperson for Republican Gov. Charlie Barker told Axios that the governor's office is "in touch with local officials regarding the arrival of migrants in Martha's Vineyard."

"At this time, short-term shelter services are being provided by local officials, and the Administration will continue to support those efforts," Baker spokesperson Terry MacCormack told the outlet.

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Fernandes said the migrants were "not met with chaos" but with "compassion."

"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," he wrote. "We are a community that comes together to support immigrants."

State Sen. Julian Cyr, a Democrat who represents Martha's Vineyard, told CNN that officials scrambled to set up hurricane-style shelters after receiving no prior notice of the arrivals.

"They set that up in a matter of hours and these families received a meal," he said. "They were Covid tested and are spending the night in shelters at several churches on the island."

Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., whose district includes the island, tweeted that residents are called DeSantis' "bluff and rising to meet the challenge because that's what Americans do."

"History does not look kindly on leaders who treat human beings like cargo, loading them up and sending them a thousand miles away," he wrote, blasting DeSantis' decision to "prioritize cruelty & chaos over human dignity in today's taxpayer-funded stunt."

Back home, a coalition of Venezuelan-American groups announced a Thursday press conference to condemn the stunt, accusing DeSantis of a "blatant disregard for human life" and of lying to Cuban and Venezuelan communities earlier this month when he vowed not to send migrants from those countries out of state, according to Florida Today.

"Even for Ron DeSantis, this is a new low," Florida Democratic Chairman Manny Diaz said in a statement. "There is nothing that DeSantis won't do, and nobody that he won't hurt, in order to score political points… Ron DeSantis is playing games with the lives of people who came here in search of freedom and opportunity in order to boost his campaign fundraising and Fox News ratings."

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee facing DeSantis in his re-election battle, condemned his opponent for "spending $12 million to fly innocent migrant children out of our state when that money could be spent on fighting to help Floridians and lower costs."

"Everything Ron DeSantis does is to score political points and feed red meat to his base in his thinly veiled attempt to run for President – but it's really Floridians who pay the price," he tweeted, adding that "this is just another political stunt that hurts our state."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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