By Ainsley Jay
More than 6 million refugees and migrants have fled Venezuela to escape political turmoil, crime and a collapsed economy. Hoping to find a better life for themselves and their families, some desperate migrants have taken dangerous journeys by foot without documents to cross borders to escape to the United States. How have Americans responded to them fleeing their country from danger? Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, set aside $12 million in his state’s budget to transport migrants out of Florida this year. Some of that money was used instead to transport refugees from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in September. This is an eyewitness account of how the Martha’s Vineyard community came together to help the migrants, as told to me by a first responder and other caring citizens.
On September 14th 48 Venezuelan migrants flew from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on false promises of housing and jobs. The destination was arranged by Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who gave no warning to the state of Massachusetts about the Venezuelan immigrants flying over to Martha’s Vineyard.
The migrants were at first housed at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School – the only high school on the island. Food and water were both immediately provided to them. They were brought by bus to St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown which had in the past been used as the Island’s Winter Homeless Shelter.
The youngest of the 48 migrants were 5 kids elementary school age.
Many citizens in the small island of Martha’s Vineyard volunteered to help the migrants. They donated food, clothing, and sleeping bags to them.
Two Spanish teachers from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School came to translate. There were even some high school students coming to help translate for the migrants.
Kevin Brennan who is the Emergency Management Coordinator for the Island.
Julia Sayre, a senior and editor of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Newspaper.
Kevin Brennan works at the airport. At the time when the migrants arrived he saw 48 people walking by but didn’t think much about it. In fact Martha’s Vineyard initial reaction to it was that it was perfectly normal.
His wife works at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. A person who works at community service with his wife notices that it is odd that there are an unusual amount of people at community service who don’t speak english. Another person with broken Spanish that worked there translated what the migrants had to say . The person interpreted that they were promised housing, jobs, and food when they arrived.
The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School was right across the street from community services. Someone had the Migrants walk across the street. The migrants explained in Spanish to the AP Spanish high school students translated to people making arrangements for the migrants what brought them to Martha’s Vineyard. Some high school students were so busy that they didn’t have time to go home when they usually do to finish homework.
Julia Sayre said that we heard about the migrants a night before, but didn’t know why they were here. The next morning the Spanish teacher had a meeting with all of them about why the migrants were here. Three of her classmates in her AP Spanish class had family members who crossed the Mexican border to get to America. The student wanted to know what they could do to help.
Only the Spanish AP students had the opportunity to help out with the migrants at St.Andrew’s Episcopal Church- – about 20 went. They translated for the migrants and asked for any questions they had. They entertained the migrants and made them feel at home. They played soccer in the streets, made bracelets with the children, and braided hair. Many migrants were grateful for how caring the volunteers were.
“The stories I heard and the people I made a mark on me.” Julia Sayre wrote via gmail “I’ve never experienced something so powerful and eye-opening as my time spent with the migrants. My classmates and I reflect on these encounters regularly, each of us sharing a story we heard while understanding why they had to leave their home countries.”
Some of the first calls were made to Brennan about the migrants. It gets declared an emergency when they first realize they were migrants. He and others organized shelter, transportation, and needs for the migrants.
Kevin Brennan himself mentions how each person is involved with their own little piece. To the point where they don’t know the full picture.
Lawyers came to the island to help with legal matters and with donations. Getting donations was never a problem- – they received too much food and clothes.
There weren’t enough resources for the migrants to stay on the island. The homeless shelter legally houses 17, so 48 visitors was unmanageable, so local Emergency Managers worked with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to transport the visitors to a temporary shelter on Cape Cod.. In a statement Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts announced they would provide transportation to all migrants. Legal services, health care, crisis counseling, and translators were also provided on the Joint Base Cape Cod.
On September 20th the migrants filed a lawsuit against Ron DeSantis for fraudulent and discriminatory scheme. A county sheriff in Texas has recently opened an investigation on the migrants flying in under false promises. Sheriff Salazar who is working on the case has said that it’s not politically motivated.
“It’s doing the right thing,” he said to the New York Times.