Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's administration released details Friday of his plan to provide shelter and humanitarian support for the migrants who were ordered flown to Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and said the National Guard will be activated as part of the relief effort.
The administration said shelter and humanitarian supports will be provided at Joint Base Cape Cod for the approximately 50 Venezuelan migrants who arrived in Martha’s Vineyard this week. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is coordinating efforts with state and local officials to ensure access to food, shelter and essential services for the men, women and children.
The migrants took a ferry off the island Friday, arriving in Woods Hole before charter buses brought them to the base shortly before noon.
Baker also plans to activate up to 125 members of the Massachusetts National Guard as part of the relief effort.
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Shortly after the arrival of the migrants, Martha’s Vineyard residents joined with local and state officials to create temporary shelter and provide food and other necessities. But Baker's administration said the island is not equipped to provide ongoing food and shelter, so transportation was provided on Friday to bring the migrants to the new temporary shelter on Cape Cod.
The base is already designated by MEMA as an emergency shelter in Barnstable County, and its existing infrastructure provides a safe temporary accommodation appropriate for the needs of families and individuals, the administration said. Additionally, the facility can provide dedicated space for access to legal services and other essential services such as basic healthcare.
The individuals and families will be housed in dormitory-style spaces at Joint Base Cape Cod, with separate spaces for individuals and families. No families will be separated, the administration noted.
In the past, the base has housed and cared for displaced individuals, including Louisiana residents fleeing the impact of Hurricane Katrina. It also served as an alternative care medical site for Massachusetts residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are grateful to the providers, volunteers and local officials that stepped up on Martha’s Vineyard over the past few days to provide immediate services to these individuals,” Baker said in a statement. “Our Administration has been working across state government to develop a plan to ensure these individuals will have access to the services they need going forward, and Joint Base Cape Cod is well equipped to serve these needs.”
“The Baker-Polito Administration has been in close contact with providers and local officials on the ground in Martha’s Vineyard throughout this process,” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito added. “We will continue to work with officials at all levels of government to make sure everyone has access to the appropriate resources, including shelter.”
“While Wednesday’s arrival on Martha’s Vineyard was unexpected, the extraordinary response was not,” said Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy. “The work of so many state and local partners exemplify the best values of our Commonwealth, providing safe shelter, food and care for individuals that had been through a long harrowing journey.”
MEMA said it is collaborating with state agencies and non-profit organizations to ensure that individuals and families have access to services including legal, health care, food and other needs, the administration said.
The administration said Joint Base Cape Cod is not able to accept donations of any kind, but MEMA is working to set up a process to accept relief donations. Additional information is expected to be released as it becomes available.
Emergency shelters were opened Wednesday night on the island of Martha's Vineyard following the unannounced arrival of at least two planes with undocumented immigrants, according to local officials.
A representative from DeSantis' office told NBC10 Boston that two planes had come from his state.
DeSantis' move is an escalation of a tactic being used by some Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration's failed border policies. Massachusetts lawmakers have condemned the move as nothing more than a political stunt.
Confirming that Florida had flown immigrants to Massachusetts, DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said it was "part of the state's relocation program to transport [undocumented immigrants] to sanctuary destinations," referring to municipalities that keep local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials working to deport undocumented immigrants.
She said Massachusetts and other such states "will better facilitate the care of these individuals," claiming the immigrants were "invited into our country" through political positions, including "the Biden Administration's open border policies."
While DeSantis’ office didn’t elaborate on their legal status, many migrants who cross the border illegally from Mexico are temporarily shielded from deportation after being freed by U.S. authorities to pursue asylum in immigration court — as allowed under U.S law and international treaty — or released on humanitarian parole.
Speaking at an event Thursday, DeSantis again confirmed that he was behind the move to send the migrants to Martha's Vineyard.
“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," he said. “Biden would fly people in the middle of the night, dump them all across this country -- there was no warning on any of this, and all those people in D.C. and New York were beating their chest when Trump was president, saying they were so proud to be sanctuary jurisdictions, saying how bad it was to have a secure border.”
“The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door they all of a sudden go berserk and they’re so upset that this is happening and it just shows you their virtue signaling is a fraud," he added.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began busing thousands of migrants to Washington in April and recently added New York and Chicago as destinations. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has been busing migrants to Washington since May. Passengers must sign waivers that the free trips are voluntary.
A spokesperson for Abbott said Thursday that while his office has had conversations with DeSantis about supporting their busing strategy "to provide much-needed relief to our overwhelmed and overrun border communities," they had no involvement in the planes that arrived in Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday.
"Though we were not involved in these initial planes to Martha’s Vineyard, we appreciate the support in responding to this national crisis and helping Texans. Governor Abbott encourages and welcomes all his fellow governors to engage in this effort to secure the border and focus on the failing and illegal efforts of the Biden-Harris Administration to continue these reckless open border policies.”
DeSantis, who is mentioned as potential presidential candidate, appears to be taking Abbott's strategy to a new level by using planes and choosing Martha’s Vineyard, whose harbor towns that are home to about 15,000 people are far less prepared than New York or Washington for large influxes of migrants. The move is likely to delight DeSantis’ supporters who deride Democrat-led, immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” cities and anger critics who say he is weaponizing migrants as pawns for political gain.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.