Democrats seethe over migrant ‘political stunt’ at Martha’s Vineyard

Senate Democrats are seething over what they say was a “political stunt” by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who have sent planeloads and busloads of Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and Washington, D.C.

Democratic lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated with DeSantis and other GOP governors for transporting migrants to the liberal metropolises of Washington, New York and Chicago in an effort to pressure the Biden administration to pay more attention to illegal immigration. 

On Thursday, locals were dealing with the GOP moves not only in the quaint vacation spot off the coast of Massachusetts, but also near Vice President Harris’s official residence in Washington, D.C.    

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who pressed to include significant immigration reform in this year’s congressional agenda, said DeSantis’s stunt had disqualified him as a serious candidate for president in 2024.  

Migrants from Venezuela, who boarded a bus in Texas, wait to be transported to a local church by volunteers after being dropped off outside the residence of US Vice President Kamala Harris, at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s a horrible stunt but none was worse than what DeSantis just did, and it should disqualify him from ever serving one more day in office,” Kaine said.

DeSantis had about 50 migrants in Texas sent to Martha’s Vineyard, while Abbott sent two busloads of mostly Venezuelan migrants to the vice president’s residence.

Kaine noted that Venezuelan migrants are fleeing “one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world” and that the United States is largest provider of humanitarian aid to Venezuela.  

“That DeSantis would go to Texas to round up Venezuelans to drop them off in Martha’s Vineyard, the guy has not the shadow of a heart or a conscience. It’s outrageous,” Kaine said. “These poor Venezuelans, what they’re suffering.” 

The arrival of two planeloads of Venezuelan migrants caught local officials in Martha’s Vineyard by surprise and sent them scrambling to find food and shelter on the small island, which has 17,000 year-round residents and where finding enough housing for the influx of summer seasonal workers is a challenge.   

The Martha’s Vineyard’s Chamber of Commerce on Thursday called the situation a “humanitarian crisis” and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said he was staying in touch with local officials to monitor efforts to provide short-term shelter services.  

Immigrants gather with their belongings outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha’s Vineyard. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday flew two planes of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, escalating a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration’s failed border policies. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blasted DeSantis for dropping off the migrants without any advance warning to local officials. 

“It is cruel to treat human beings like pawns in a political game. He has reached a new low,” she said of DeSantis.   

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who led unsuccessful immigration reform negotiations with Republicans earlier this year, said it was “cruel and inhuman” for Abbott to ship migrants to Chicago without any coordination with local authorities, who are struggling to absorb the new arrivals into the city’s social services network. 

“When the governor of Texas will not even give us a phone call to tell us these families are arriving on buses in Union Station in Chicago, it is cruel and inhuman and it’s a petty political stunt on his part. I hope he’s held accountable,” he said.  

Durbin, who met with newly arrived migrant families last week in Chicago, said “moral standards have been grossly violated by this conduct.”  

He recalled meeting a couple who trekked across Central America with their two babies to reach the United States to request asylum who “went through every conceivable indignity” to reach safe haven. 

“Now they come to the United States and have the governor of Texas heap this indignity on them. It is just unfair and it’s un-American,” he said.  

He said the influx of migrants is putting a strain on Chicago’s social welfare services. Officials have resorted to setting up cots at the Salvation Army rescue center to shelter them.  

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), another leading Democratic advocate for immigration reform and an outspoken critic of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, called DeSantis’s conduct “shameful.”  

“It’s shameful that instead of welcoming Venezuelans to the state with the largest Venezuelan diaspora in the U.S., @GovRonDeSantis chose to lure migrants like a human trafficker & lie about where they were going to score political points with Trump’s MAGA base,” he tweeted. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Senate Republicans, however, say that DeSantis, Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey are justified in shipping migrants to Blue States. 

They argue that border states such as Texas and Arizona shouldn’t be alone in shouldering the burden of thousands of migrants entering the country.  

“Right now Arizona and Texas and a few others take the whole burden, and other states ought to take their fair share,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. Romney has frequently criticized former President Trump, underscoring how on immigration, the moves by DeSantis and Abbott do not appear to be dividing Republicans.  

When asked whether bussing migrants to Democratic states appears to be a political stunt, Romney accused the Biden administration of playing politics by not doing more to secure the southern border. 

Asked how he might have handled the sudden influx of migrants on Martha’s Vineyard if he were still governor, Romney replied: “I’m not governor of Massachusetts but any governor would have responsibility for finding locations and employment and housing and other opportunities for those that come into the country.” 

Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) also defended DeSantis and Abbott.  

He said if Democrats are upset, they should “do something about it” by taking action to limit the flow of people across the border.  

He argued that shipping migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Washington, D.C., and other Democratic enclaves is “certainly getting people’s attention.”  

“Before this this Biden administration has been ignoring the situation on the border,” he said. “This is something we’ve been living with for a long time now in Texas.” 

He said political leaders in Martha’s Vineyard, New York City and Washington “ought to pick up the phone and call the Biden White House and say we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to do something about it.”  

Tags Arizona Biden Administration Bob Menendez Charlie Baker Charlie Baker Chicago Dick Durbin Doug Ducey Elizabeth Warren Greg Abbott Greg Abbott Kamala Harris Martha's Vineyard Massachusetts migrants New York City Nicolás Maduro Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis Salvation Army Texas Tim Kaine United States United States Senate Venezuela Washington D.C.

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