EDGARTOWN, Mass. — After two full days of lodging at an Episcopal parish in Martha’s Vineyard, a group of migrants from Venezuela were bused and transported off the island of Massachusetts on Friday morning.
Amid watery-eyed farewell hugs, volunteers who had worked around the clock to provide shelter, food, clothing and other necessities to the 48 migrants waved goodbye as they got on the buses. Staff at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown told reporters the bus ride was voluntary.
“My heart breaks for them because they weren’t the first priority,” said Lisa Belcastro, one of the St. Andrews volunteers. “They are in my heart forever.”
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, met with the migrants on Friday morning before their departure. The families were taken to the island’s Steamship Authority Vineyard Haven terminal, from where they departed for Joint Base Cape Cod, a Massachusetts National Guard facility, attorneys said. The base is approximately 60 miles from Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.
From there, Garcia said attorneys and state officials will arrange to help them find housing in Massachusetts or out of state. Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, said families were being moved out of Martha’s Vineyard and on the mainland due to logistical constraints in transporting services and lawyers from the immigration to and from the island.
Many of them say they are heading to cities in Florida, including Miami, Garcia said, where they have friends or family.
“The irony is that the governor [Ron] DeSantis paid for them to be brought here,” Garcia said.
Espinoza-Madrigal said it was still unclear how long they would stay on Cape Cod, how many migrants would stay in Boston and how many would move. The focus, he said, now turns to developing immigration cases for each of the migrants, as well as assessing any additional litigation they might want to bring against the parties responsible for their deception.
Rachel Self, a Boston immigration attorney who conducted in-depth interviews with the migrants about their situation, alleged on Thursday that agents from the US Department of Homeland Security likely forged the addresses of some of the migrants in their documents. The result, she said, was that many of them had hearings scheduled in immigration courts across the country as early as Monday morning. Missing them could jeopardize their chances of staying in the country.
Espinoza-Madrigal said a “significant number” of migrants experienced this, while others had addresses that reflected where they expected to settle.
“A lot of people who had these experiences weren’t asked if they were fleeing” by federal immigration officials, Espinoza-Madrigal said. “There was simply no investigation or consultation.”
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“There appear to be breaches of protocol that need to be further investigated. There appear to be anomalies in the immigration documents provided to families by government officials and this raises a strong possibility of collusion between border officials and state actors,” he added.
This is breaking news and will be updated.