At a church where they were staying on Martha’s Vineyard, immigrants cheered Friday morning when they heard the Massachusetts government was offering them shelter on a Cape Cod military base. They voluntarily boarded government-arranged buses and arrived at the military installation on Friday afternoon, officials said.
Migrants will be “housed in dormitory style at JPCC, with separate spaces for both individuals and families” and families will not be separated, it said. They will have access to services including legal, health care, food, hygiene kits and crisis counseling, according to Baker’s office.
A group of civil rights lawyers working with immigrants called their stories “heartbreaking — and infuriating.” Many of the migrants went to the hospital in need of care upon their arrival on the island on Wednesday.
Even though some of these immigrants had immigration hearings scheduled anywhere near Massachusetts, they were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, the group said. Immigrants released from government custody often move to other cities in the United States as they pursue their immigration process.
“This cowardly political stunt has put our clients at risk,” the attorneys for civil rights said in a news release Friday. “Some now have immigration hearings thousands of miles away on Monday.”
Some lawyers from the group accompanied the migrants on buses Cape Cod Base.
The flights came from Texas, but the Florida governor says he arranged them
Although Florida’s governor said he arranged for the flights, the migrants were in Texas — not Florida.
Martha’s Vineyard Airport Director Jeffrey Freeman said the planes appeared in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday.
“We have the money to do (that), but it’s coming from people on the southern border, it’s not going into the interior of Florida,” DeSantis said at an August press conference.
At a news conference Friday in Daytona Beach, DeSantis said he wanted to use “every penny” of the $12 million and set expectations for more buses and “more” flights with immigrants paid for by Florida.
“These are initial efforts. The governor defended using taxpayer dollars to send immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard because, he said, too many people crossing the border end up in his state.
Florida’s Department of Transportation paid $615,000 to Verdol Systems, a Florida-based airline, six days before transporting the migrants to Massachusetts, state budget records show.
Budget records don’t detail what kind of “contracted services” Verdol provided to the department, and it’s unclear whether the $615,000 was for two flights to Martha’s Vineyard. Additional budget records obtained by CNN show the state first requested the payment on Sept. 7.
CNN reached out to Verdol Systems, the Department of Transportation and DeSantis’ office, but did not immediately receive a response.
Civil Rights Advocates: Immigrants Didn’t Know They Were Going to Martha’s Vineyard
Immigrants on Wednesday’s flights didn’t know they were being taken specifically to Martha’s Vineyard, according to a legal group helping them.
They were prompted to board the plane with “representations of work aid and immigration relief in Boston,” attorneys for the civil rights group said in a news release.
“Mid-flight, they were told they were not going to Boston, but to Martha’s Vineyard. They were abandoned on the island, unknown to anyone in the community,” the news release said.
In his Friday news conference, Florida’s governor denied knowing where the migrants were going, saying they signed a waiver and were given a packet with a map of Martha’s Vineyard, “it’s clear where they’re going,” and that it was all “voluntary.”
Two of the migrants told CNN they decided to travel after two women and a man approached them on the streets near a migrant resource center while they were in San Antonio.
Wilmer Villasana, one of the migrants, said he was kept in a hotel for five days before the flights and was well taken care of. The women told him they were from Orlando and worked for private organizations that raised funds to help immigrants, Villazana said.
One of the women told Villasana and the other migrant, Yang Pablo Mora, that Villasana and Mora told them they would get help with shelter and jobs once they reached their destination.
Villasana and Mora didn’t know the planes were headed to Martha’s Vineyard, they said. Villasana thought they were going to Boston, he said.
The White House condemned DeSantis’ actions
Despite the unannounced visits to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday, some island residents worked quickly to provide some vital services. The island is known as a summer haven for the affluent.
CNN’s Steve Contorno, Paul B. Murphy, Bob Crowley, Leila Santiago, Chuck Johnston, Maria Santana and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.
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