Martha's Vineyard

Baker Calls for U.S. Immigration System Changes After Migrants Flown to Mass.

'Washington needs to do its job, and its job is to come up with an immigration policy that’s enforceable, that works, and that people understand,' Baker said Sunday

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker spoke publicly for the first time Sunday about the 50 migrants who were flown to Martha's Vineyard unannounced last week, placing blame on Washington for the immigration issues that our country is facing.

"Sending people all over the country, many of whom have no idea why they are being sent where they are going is no solution to the very screwed up immigration system we have in the U.S.," Baker said.

The migrants, mostly from Venezuela, were loaded on to two charter planes that departed from Texas, making several stops in between before arriving to the island last Wednesday. Once news broke, there was an outpouring of support, from material donations to legal services. But there's been backlash, too.

Immigration lawyer Ivan Espinoza Madrigal, who represents 30 of the migrants, says they were deceived, having been promised jobs and housing, not knowing where they were being flown to, and potentially jeopardized their scheduled immigration hearings at their original destination.

"This deliberate effort to derail them, to make sure that they are further away from immigration protection and relief, that's an important piece here," he said. "We need a coordinated response from the state of Massachusetts and for the federal government to hold all the perpetrators accountable."

Baker has vowed to do what's necessary to care for the migrants and their needs while they remain in Massachusetts. After they arrived on Martha's Vineyard, the group was rehoused at Joint Base Cape Cod. Baker's administration said the island is not equipped to provide ongoing food and shelter.

After being sent unexpectedly to Martha's Vineyard, dozens of migrants were brought to the mainland.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke this weekend during a campaign rally in Kansas for a candidate for governor, during which time he noted the island’s jobs and lodging availability and also touted its wealth.

“They were given, basically, a lottery ticket to get to the wealthiest jurisdiction in the country,” DeSantis said of the migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard.

The median household income in Dukes County, Massachusetts, which includes Martha’s Vineyard, is $77,318, however. St. Johns County, Florida, by contrast, has a higher median household income of $83,803 according to the 2020 US Census.

“Did they get them employed? Did they get them set up? No,” said DeSantis. “They called the National Guard and they deported those people off the island the very next day.”

Baker called on 125 National Guard to help with relief efforts. His office told NBC10 Boston that the National Guard did not have a hand in the removal of the migrants from Martha’s Vineyard.

Lawyers representing at least 30 of the migrants are calling on U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to formally open investigations into the coordination of the migrant flights, claiming there was a conspiracy to get the 50 men, women and children to board planes and cross state lines under false promises of work opportunities, schooling for children, and immigration assistance.

The group of migrants were moved off the island two days after arriving, and remain in Massachusetts, not deported; they are currently sheltered at Joint Base Cape Cod for the time being.

The base is already designated by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency as an emergency shelter in Barnstable County, and its existing infrastructure provides a safe temporary accommodation appropriate for the needs of families and individuals, the Baker administration had said. Additionally, the facility can provide dedicated space for access to legal services and other essential services such as basic healthcare. The individuals and families will be housed in dormitory-style spaces, with separate spaces for individuals and families -- no families will be separated.

Speaking Sunday, Baker did not respond directly to DeSantis. Instead, he called on Congress to fix what he called a broken system.

“Washington needs to do its job, and its job is to come up with an immigration policy that’s enforceable, that works, and that people understand,” he said.

The US Justice Department and the State Attorney General are reportedly looking into DeSantis’ actions.

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