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Fla. Gov. DeSantis sent migrant flights to Massachusetts, his office says


Fifty migrants arrived unexpectedly on the resort island Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis took responsibility for financing the flight after someone rounded up the migrants in Texas. So they went from Texas to Florida to this elite summer vacation spot. Eve Zuckoff from our member station WCAI met the migrants at a shelter.

EVE ZUCKOFF, BYLINE: The plane arrived out of the blue on a sunny afternoon. The passengers, men, women and children, almost all from Venezuela, arrived at the Martha's Vineyard Airport. They had boarded the plane earlier that day in San Antonio. Officials were not informed ahead of their arrival. Once on the ground in Massachusetts, local authorities and nonprofits scrambled to feed and house them. Lisa Del Castro, who runs the island's homeless shelter, said resources were scarce at first.

LISA DEL CASTRO: Everything from beds to food to clothing to toothbrushes, toothpaste, blankets, sheets - I mean, we had some of it, but we did not have the numbers that we needed.

ZUCKOFF: Most of the arrivals spoke little or no English. Spanish-speaking high school students were pressed into service as interpreters. Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee said many of the migrants were confused.

BRUCE MCNAMEE: There is a lot of concern. We have talked to a number of people who've asked, where am I? And then us trying to explain where Martha's Vineyard is has been a challenge.

ZUCKOFF: Three migrants each separately described to NPR how they were lured onto the plane with promises of help getting work. Each of the three were told they were being flown to Boston and that, once they were there, they could more quickly get work because they were told it is a sanctuary city. Andres Duarte, a 30-year-old Venezuelan, said he had recently crossed the border into Texas and eventually went to a shelter in San Antonio. A woman who he and other migrants identified only as Perla approached them outside the shelter. They say she arranged for some of them to stay at a hotel, offered them food and then got them on a plane.

ANDRES DUARTE: (Through interpreter) She offered us help, help that never arrived. And now we're here. We got on the plane with a vision of the future, making it.

ZUCKOFF: He went on to explain why he boarded the plane with so little information in hand.

DUARTE: (Through interpreter) Look; when you have no money and someone offers you help, well, it means a lot.

ZUCKOFF: A spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis confirmed that the migrants were transported by the state of Florida under a program funded by the Legislature earlier this year. The statement reads in part, quote, "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." Massachusetts state Senator (ph) Dylan Fernandes represents Martha's Vineyard.

DYLAN FERNANDES: We have the governor of Florida hatching a secret plot to send immigrant families like cattle on an airplane, ship them - women and children - to a place that they weren't told where they were going, never alerted local officials and people on the ground here that they were coming. It is an incredibly inhumane and depraved thing to do.

ZUCKOFF: Lisa Del Castro, who runs the shelter where migrants spent the night, said despite the journey, the group is resilient.

DEL CASTRO: There's some really sad stories. And then some people, the only thing they're expressing is how grateful they are to be here and to be safe and cared for - right? - sheltered. And, you know, their needs are immense right now.

ZUCKOFF: NPR spoke with Yesica, a migrant who gave only her first name because of her undocumented immigration status. Asked what she thought would happen now, Yesica was uncertain.

YESICA: (Through interpreter) Oh, goodness. I don't know what is going to happen to us. The truth is I'm worried. It will be whatever God wishes, no? We're here now, and there's nothing we can do.

ZUCKOFF: Not even, she added, to take a step back.

For NPR News, I'm Eve Zuckoff on Martha's Vineyard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eve Zuckoff is WCAI's Report for America reporter, covering the human impacts of climate change.