Action sought: Immigrants exported to Martha’s Vineyard

A shelter home in Matha's Vineyard.

Controversy sparked when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent around 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., without properly informing officials or the migrants themselves. The planes “took off in San Antonio, Texas,” which makes it unclear why DeSantis held responsibility for the migrants in the first place. However, according to Texas Governor Greg Abott’s spokesperson, although not directly involved in DeSantis’ plan, Abott “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” (2). 

Until recently, the main controversy revolved around Abott’s involvement—or lack thereof—as he suggested he was completely uninvolved with the case, while DeSantis took the credit. DeSantis had told multiple outlets that it was a part of the state’s program to relocate them because “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,” said Desantis’ communications director Taryn M. Fenske (1). 

DeSantis withheld $12 million in tax funds to create the program for transporting immigrants. Although this may seem unordinary, Allie Rojas, faculty leader of UMass Boston’s Immigrant Student Alliance, discusses how this is a standard scheme to gain more votes. 

“They are trying to do [these actions] for their political party, like DeSantis saying he has a strong stance on immigration…to pull in the party that they want,” Rojas said. She also expresses that the usage of “public funds, [and the] people who are paying them, should be made known [for] exactly they are being used for. That clarification from government officials is very important.”

There is also proof of another government official working to board the planes. Perla Huerta, a former combat medic and counterintelligence agent, was working to help move the migrants north. Many migrants felt that Perla was helping immigrants, but she never mentioned her connection with the Florida government. It is suggested she did this to subtly “draw attention to the large number of unauthorized migrants arriving daily at the southern border and force Democrats to deal with the migrants whom they profess a desire to welcome” (4).

Despite this, Huerta instead claims that she was lied to. Rojas states that “there’s different sides to every story, we don’t always hear the full context of things. So, we don’t really know, all we do know is that human beings are being treated unfairly. How are we really treating people?” 

Furthermore, many of the migrants felt that they were lied to. One of the individuals who helped sign up other migrants said, “if I had known, I would not have gotten involved," (4). 

Manipulation was a common theme, as the attorneys who helped the migrants shared  that the travelers were not aware they were going to Martha’s Vineyard. They were told they were heading to Boston with more opportunities. It wasn’t until about halfway through the flight that they were told otherwise. They were also given brochures that listed contacts for the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, which has been declared unpublished by their office. The brochure even offered services that the migrants were not eligible for.

Some migrants stressed over the unknown of being sent to Massachusetts. An anonymous man, with a court date that was set for Sept. 21, believed it to be a “ploy to get us to miss our court dates so we get in trouble with the law and they can deport us” (3). 

Furthermore, due to Martha’s Vineyard being a vacation spot, there is often a shortage of jobs. This affected the migrants, as they arrived at the end of the summer season. There was no affordable housing or jobs available by the winter season. Rojas suggests this is due to a broken and unfixable immigration system.

Rojas expanded on this by saying she “feel[s] for the undocumented community. The immigration system is broken, has been broken; nothing really seems to be changing. Forced migration is happening because of the borders, laws, and legislation. The US and other countries are complicit in that: doing more trade, the NAFTA agreement and DACA, they are all harming local businesses there, where they can no longer make a profit and are forced to migrate. So, how can we not expect people to seek safety and a better life? I mean, people have had DACA for about ten years, they just had their anniversary. It was things that were supposed to be temporary, but now no side is willing to do anything about it, they’re only willing to jump in when they want to make a show of it. It’s clear that we’re used as bargaining chips for this country. We can’t leave this country because we can’t come back… It’s kind of like being a prisoner here.” 

Fortunately, the migrants’ struggle for food and housing security on Martha’s Vineyard was overcome with the help of local community groups, churches and restaurants who pitched in to help (1). The League of United Latin American Citizens held a news conference to discuss the issue further. At the conference, it was stated that two individuals were hospitalized upon arrival. According to the organization’s national president, Domingo Garcia, one person with diabetes went into shock and a baby was experiencing health issues (3).

In light of these events, some UMass Boston communities are pushing for the university to have more conversations surrounding immigration. The UMass Boston Student Immigrant Alliance Club and the Immigrant Student Program discussed that immigrant issues need to be addressed more on campus. 

Kamira, president of SIA and coordinator at ISP who chose to keep her last name anonymous, expressed that her experience at UMass Boston uncovered the need for more students to have safe places on campus, especially as situations like this continue to occur. She shared that language barriers can be the biggest struggle for immigrants at UMass Boston. 

Out of fear for how other students and professors will react to different language barriers, immigrants often don’t feel encouraged to speak up.  Kamira shared that one of her professor’s once asked for only American students or native English speakers to read a part of a slide presentation. 

Exclusion makes most students feel “uncomfortable speaking up, just like undocumented immigrants feel unsafe speaking up; who can I go to? They’re afraid because there are a lot of people who are against them,” said Kamira. She added that she wished professors were “taught how to support student immigrants.” 

Furthermore, Kamira stated: “The school needs to do more than just send out an email. I cannot imagine getting on a plane and having no idea where you’re going, getting dumped from one place to another, [and] having no identity. If the Chancellor says something, at least the students will trust in the school. They have the connections, and we do have the funds, we just need the support to use them. I mean, most people don’t even know there are immigrants on campus. It starts with us. This is a human issue.”

Kamira ended by suggesting that the best thing to do as of right now is to vote. Regardless of what the university does, voting is key for students to use their voice when they feel uncomfortable at school.

Sources:

[1] Mazzei, Tumin, and Fawcett

[2]  Akers

[3]  Neukam 

[4]1 updated 

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