Critics, Supporters React to DeSantis' Banishment of Migrants to Martha's Vineyard

An early-morning tweet from Christina Pushaw, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' "rapid response director"
An early-morning tweet from Christina Pushaw, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' "rapid response director" Screenshot via Twitter @ChristinaPushaw
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent two planeloads of Venezuelan and Colombian migrants to Martha's Vineyard late Wednesday after months of touting plans to relocate undocumented immigrants out of the state.

Workers on the Massachusetts island, known as a summer retreat for wealthy progressives, quickly scrambled to find temporary shelter for roughly 50 South Americans, many of whom reportedly believed they were being flown to Boston to apply for expedited work papers. The flights are said to have originated in Texas, seemingly part of a larger effort to reroute migrants from border states.

DeSantis' decision, enabled by an immigration relocation program funded by the Florida legislature earlier this year, follows his vocal criticism of President Biden's immigration policy.

“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 spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in a statement.

Photos taken at the shelter at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown show a chaotic scene of migrant families, some with small children, huddling around tables with cases of water bottles and COVID-19 tests. One image captured by the local NPR station shows a young girl standing on a chair in what appears to be a classroom, with toys and food –– including a bag of Lay's chips and a grape-flavored Capri Sun –– on the table behind her.

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A lighthouse in Edgartown, a community where dozens of migrants were given shelter in September 2022 after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent them on a flight to be dropped off in Martha's Vineyard.
Photo by Bob P.B.

Mike Rivero of Cubanos Pa'lante, a Miami-based progressive organization dedicated to political education within the Cuban-American community, tells New Times he reacted to the scenes with "disgust."

"How are we so proud about people getting moved around arbitrarily without being told where they're going?" says Rivero. "They are almost being thrown around like cattle. These are human beings and refugees."

Noting that DeSantis visited Miami in May to sign a bill to create a "Victims of Communism Day" honoring Cuban exiles, Rivero finds the governor's forced relocation of Venezuelan migrants escaping the authoritarian Maduro regime hypocritical.

"DeSantis just a few months ago came to Miami talking about people fleeing communist regimes and always to support them," Rivero tells New Times. "It's the clearest example of how he's pandering for votes from the Latino community, especially Cuban Americans. He's manipulating the entire situation to get re-elected."

Rivero says he's urging his fellow Cuban Americans to call out the double standard and help lead the way on immigration reform. He hopes his community "wakes up" and disavows DeSantis.

"We should help them as opposed to pointing fingers and saying, 'Well, they're illegal. They should be bused around and thrown back,'" Rivero argues. "They are fleeing authoritarianism in all of these places just like we did."

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts accused DeSantis of using the migrants "as props in a cruel stunt to buoy his pathetic political aspirations."

"To those who've just landed: we gladly embrace you," Markey said.

DeSantis said at a press conference that Florida is "not a sanctuary state," and that his administration "will gladly facilitate the transport of illegal immigrants to sanctuary jurisdictions."

The governor's move prompted strong reactions from politicians and activists across the political spectrum. Some were appalled as his decision came on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The governor's supporters championed the move to relocate illegal migrants to liberal cities, asserting that southern states and border communities have borne the brunt of dealing with influxes of migrants.
The governor's spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, never shy about appearing crass, tweeted an image of a DeSantis caricature superimposed on an aerial photo of Barack Obama's residence in Martha's Vineyard with the governor appearing to say, "This bad boy can fit so many illegal immigrants in it."
While DeSantis' move is largely viewed by his critics as political posturing on immigration policy, Vineyard residents promised to welcome the migrants with open arms.
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca
Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein