Several Massachusetts politicians and advocacy groups expressed outrage Thursday after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent two planes carrying roughly 50 unauthorized immigrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday.
According to reports and flight logs, the planes originated in San Antonio, Texas, and had brief stopovers in Florida en route to Massachusetts. Massachusetts officials said they were caught by surprise by the airlift.
State Sen. Julian Cyr, who represents the Cape and Islands, told WBUR that he sees this as a "political stunt."
"This isn't about having Massachusetts or other so-called blue states sort of pitching in to help in the migrant crisis. This is about extremist politicians exploiting vulnerable people for their own gain. And that is simply disgusting."
Cyr added that with no notice, it was difficult getting assistance to the migrants quickly.
"We're in the business of welcoming people on Martha's Vineyard, on Cape Cod," he said. "But you really can't provide adequate support and services for people when you have no notification of their arrival."
On Friday, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat who represents Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Falmouth in the state Legislature, blasted DeSantis and praised the people of the Vineyard.
"We know that the governor of Florida, one of the largest states in the country, has been spending his time in the past months not working on the issues facing people of Florida — of which there are many — but instead, spending his time hatching a secretive plot to ship humans — people — to my district on a complete lie, just so he can ... claim that he is tough on immigration and beat his chest on it," Fernandes told WBUR's All Things Considered.
"There is nothing tough about using women and children as political pawns. Ron DeSantis is a coward," he continued. "What is tough, what is strong, is the outpouring of community support that was shown here for these families. And I believe that outpouring of support represents the best of America."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said the state was working with partners to ensure a range of resources were made available to the migrants, as many arrived with different immigration statuses.
The governor also said his administration was exploring setting up a temporary shelter and humanitarian services for the migrants at Joint Base Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay.
“On behalf of the Commonwealth, I thank everyone on the ground who quickly came together to provide assistance on the Vineyard," Baker said in the statement.
So many local residents rushed to provide help on Martha's Vineyard that Edgartown Police on the island asked people to stop bringing goods to a local shelter to alleviate traffic problems in the area.
Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren lambasted DeSantis' move in a statement on Twitter Thursday morning.
Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Ed Markey also took to Twitter to call it a "cruel stunt." He said the state will embrace the migrants.
U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, who represents a district that includes the Cape and Islands, took to Twitter late Wednesday night to deliver a scathing criticism of DeSantis' decision.
"History does not look kindly on leaders who treat human beings like cargo, loading them up and sending them a thousand miles away without telling them their destination," he wrote.
He went on to praise those on the island who offered assistance with no notice, as well as the Baker administration.
ACLU Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose also slammed the move.
"Immigrants and asylum-seekers are people — period," Rose said. "It is cruel and immoral that some governors are involuntarily flying and busing people and families to other states, based on their perceived immigration status."
Still, some conservative politicians, like Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, aimed their criticism at the Biden administration and the state's immigration policies.
"We have a crisis at America’s southern border. All at once, it is a humanitarian crisis, a public safety crisis, a public health crisis, and a national security crisis," Diehl wrote in a statement Thursday morning. "Sadly, the Biden administration has proven itself unwilling and unable to address it."
Diehl said some states like Florida have been forced to find ways to deal with an influx of immigrants to protect residents and blasted Massachusetts as a "sanctuary state" that protects people living in the U.S. without permission.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's office released a brief statement saying it was in touch with state and local officials "to offer support and resources as needed." Healey, a Democrat, is also running for governor.
James McMahon, the Republican candidate for attorney general, threw criticism at Healey and his Democratic opponent Andrea Campbell, writing that, "these two act as if we are a 'Sanctuary State' already."
“The open border policies of the Biden Administration, combined with the radical progressive thinking of my opponent, are an endangering combination for our Public Safety," he added.
Campbell, in a statement on Twitter, wrote, "In Massachusetts, we don't believe in political stunts. We believe in helping people. No matter who they are or where they come from." She expressed her gratitude for those who jumped to help the migrants on Martha's Vineyard.
With reporting from WBUR's Newscast Unit and WBUR reporter Saurabh Datar
This article was originally published on September 15, 2022.