Opinion: Martha’s Vineyard immigration incident


Credit: Alyssa Ao

WSPN’s Kally Proctor discusses the Martha’s Vineyard immigration incident that occurred last September.

Kally Proctor

What was he thinking?

Just last month, Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis organized a flight of almost 50 illegal migrants – mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers – from San Antonio, Texas to the tiny elite Massachusetts summer vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Hold on, Governor DeSantis is the governor of Florida, not Texas. What is Florida’s governor doing shipping people from Texas to Massachusetts? I’ll get to that point later. For the time being, we’ll just say that it was sneaky, brash, cruel and perhaps illegal.

As evident in the recent lawsuits against DeSantis, people were furious. Furious at DeSantis’ treatment of these migrants. Furious at his brazen actions in moving whole families across the country, to an unfamiliar place, with false promises of jobs and eventually homes to be found there.

I was furious.

I can’t fathom the inhumanity of treating people like pawns in order to score political points.

When it comes to immigration in the U.S., people hold a wide range of opinions on how the issue should be handled. In recent years, opinions on whether immigration levels should be increased or decreased have been fairly even. For many though, the issue of immigration, and in particular illegal immigration, has remained one of intense debate.

Martha’s Vineyard may be a highly desirable hangout for the rich and famous, but it’s quite the opposite for destitute immigrants. It’s an expensive location because of the high transportation costs required to import things there. It’s also a place where affordable housing is non-existent. And, it’s a place where there just aren’t any jobs, particularly in the off-season when the population drops from summertime highs of more than 100,000 people to fewer than 17,000 year-round residents.

When the flights carrying Venezuelan migrants had landed, most people were bewildered. From both the migrants and the local residents, to political pundits and yes, even kids like me. While there’s certainly room for debate over immigration policy and open versus closed borders, Governor DeSantis crossed the line by treating people like cattle.

The planes came as a complete surprise to those living in Martha’s Vineyard, as well as Massachusetts officials. In addition, it was later discovered that DeSantis had lured the migrants onto the flights as part of an extensively orchestrated ruse. They were told that they would be welcomed onto Martha’s Vineyard and that there would be jobs and resources for them on the island, and more broadly in Massachusetts. These resources included promises of transportation to Boston and even expedited work permits for the migrants.

But just two days after landing, they were shipped off the Vineyard to military barracks on Cape Cod. Many have since dispersed, most probably feeling duped as to how they got there in the first place.

Which brings us back to the question, what was he thinking?

Well, we know he’s thinking about running for president. So, of course, he’s thinking politics, not people. He was certainly not thinking about what’s best for the migrants. He was using them for publicity to generate national attention for himself. And that’s what makes this situation so insensitive and unjustifiable.

The cost, ignoring the wasteful expense of it all, was “only” 48 people. It involved sending these individuals somewhere they had no clue about – somewhere expensive, unwelcoming and cold – someplace unlivable for them.

Perhaps DeSantis intended to use his actions to garner support with certain extreme anti-illegal-immigration demographics in Florida. Perhaps he intended for the move to force the hand of law-makers and politicians in the so-called “sanctuary state” of Massachusetts.

Perhaps he’s using them – to give him the benefit of the doubt – to make people in places like Massachusetts better understand what it feels like to be inundated with migrants. To make the immigrant crisis feel more real to us.

But that’s a generous motive.

These migrant families were taken from the place they knew and dropped in an unfamiliar land under false pretenses. The truth is, DeSantis lied to them. He promised these families a place to work, a place to stay and a future. Then, he proceeded to drop them on an island with little to no job prospects, without anyone’s knowledge, thereby guaranteeing that those on Martha’s Vineyard would have to scramble to accommodate them.

We may never know what it was that DeSantis intended, but we do know that he interfered with people’s lives and livelihoods. We know that he used state funds to fly migrants to the vineyard. Not only that, but he forced a difficult situation on the migrant families, the people who lived in Martha’s Vineyard and on Massachusetts officials who would be forced to sort out the issue.

So, what was he thinking?

I think we all know.