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On Martha's Vineyard, Venezuelan migrants and islanders bid fond farewells03:12
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(Jesse Costa/WBUR)
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The group of Venezuelans unexpectedly forced to stay on Martha's Vineyard departed Friday, bidding an emotional farewell to the islanders who offered them immediate support in a fast-moving political saga.

Many of the nearly four dozen migrants said they felt grateful as they prepared to board one of three charter buses to catch a ferry to mainland Massachusetts.

"God bless all of you," one of the men said, raising his hands in gratitude, as he boarded a bus.

It had been about 36 hours since island officials, lawyers and an army of volunteers mobilized behind the immigrants after they were flown to the Vineyard Wednesday under what many of them said were false pretenses, including promises of jobs and lodging in Massachusetts. Many of them seek asylum in the U.S.

A Venezuelan man walks with his duffle bag to board one of the buses taking the immigrants to catch a ferry to mainland Massachusetts. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A Venezuelan man walks with his duffle bag to board one of the buses taking the immigrants to catch a ferry to mainland Massachusetts. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Their path to Massachusetts from Texas was evidently arranged by Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis in what some have criticized as a potentially illegal "political stunt." State and Vineyard officials had no warning they'd arrive at the island's private airport Wednesday afternoon.

The migrants, whose ages ranged from small children to one man in his late 60s, now were headed to services and a temporary shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay set up by the Baker administration.

The Venezuelan immigrants board the first bus at St. Andrews Parish House as they moved to leave Martha’s Vineyard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Venezuelan immigrants board the first bus at St. Andrews Parish House as they moved to leave Martha’s Vineyard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“We’re leaving in a few minutes,” said one man in Spanish, before stepping on a bus. "They’re going to bring us to a safe place, and that’s where they will put us up.”

Like most of the Venezuelans, the man interviewed by WBUR did not give his name for fear of deportation.

The saga left many islanders reflecting on their place in a nation divided over immigration policy. Many expressed outrage the Venezuelans appeared to have been used as pawns in a political chess game, but some also were dismayed at a federal immigration system they say needs reform.

A Venezuelan immigrant looks at his phone outside of St. Andrews Church before preparing to leave Edgartown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A Venezuelan immigrant looks at his phone outside of St. Andrews Church before preparing to leave Edgartown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Other islanders, like Patty O’Leary, who summers on the Vineyard and lives in the house next to the church where the migrants stayed, said they appreciated how residents stepped up to help.

"I watched truckloads of clothing come through here, sleeping bags come through here," she said. "Everyone's been so giving — pretty remarkable."

Immigrants and volunteers stand arm-in-arm in a huddle as the migrants depart St. Andrews Parish House in Edgartown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Immigrants and volunteers stand arm-in-arm in a huddle as the migrants depart St. Andrews Parish House in Edgartown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Volunteers and immigrants cheer in the driveway of St. Andrews Parish House on Martha's Vineyard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Volunteers and immigrants cheer in the driveway of St. Andrews Parish House on Martha's Vineyard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Lisa Belcastro, coordinator for Martha’s Vineyard homeless shelter Harbor Homes, led many of those efforts. As she directed two garbagemen clearing trash, Belcastro recounted a conversation with Edgartown’s fire chief.

"I said, 'It's like when you go into a fire, it's so important to know that your teammates have your back,' " she said. "We all came together and everybody had everybody's back."

Lisa Belcastro says goodbye to the group of Venezuelan immigrants as they leave St. Andrews Parish House for Joint Base Cape Cod. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Lisa Belcastro says goodbye to the group of Venezuelan immigrants as they leave St. Andrews Parish House for Joint Base Cape Cod. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Belcastro said a flood of leftover food donations will be used by local food banks. She said despite stereotypes that the island is an elite bubble — it's the summer vacation spot of the Obama family and famously where members of the Kennedy family lived — many residents don’t have enough food to eat.

Belcastro added she hopes the people she and others bonded with over the last two days are taken care of — and that she keeps her efforts up.

"I hope that my previous normal is not my normal," Belcastro said. "I want what I feel today to carry forward. I have a desire to become more involved in this.”

For her, that means staying in touch with those who stayed at her shelter as they navigate their lives in the United States.

A young Venezuelan girl smiles as a volunteer says goodbye before boarding a bus to leave Edgartown and take them to the mainland. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A young Venezuelan girl smiles as a volunteer says goodbye before boarding a bus to leave Edgartown and take them to the mainland. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This segment aired on September 16, 2022.

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Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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