EDGARTOWN, Mass. — The chief executive of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work Wednesday when she looked outside to see 48 strangers nearing her office with red folders that included brochures for her organization.
The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the wealthy Massachusetts island from San Antonio by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said they were told they were going to Boston.
DeSantis took from the playbook of a fellow Republican, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, by surprising Democrat-led cities and states with large influxes of migrants. Providing little or no information is part of the plan.
“They were told that they would have a job and they would have housing,” said Elizabeth Folcarelli, who leads Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and described the scramble for shelter as a “huge challenge.”
Julio Henriquez, an attorney who met with several migrants, said they “had no idea of where they were going or where they were”.
Two flights to Martha’s Vineyard stopped in the Florida Panhandle, Henriquez said. While on board, migrants got brochures and maps of Massachusetts.
An unsigned letter told migrants to notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of address changes, though another agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is responsible for tracking migrants, Henriquez said. “This is a terrible advice,” he said.
Many immigrants have appointments with ICE on Sept. 19 in San Antonio. Others were ordered to report to immigration authorities in two weeks to three months in cities including Philadelphia and Washington.
U.S. officials told immigration attorneys that required check-ins would be postponed, Henriquez said. Homeland Security officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
On Friday, the migrants were being moved voluntarily to a military base on nearby Cape Cod. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he would activate up to 125 National Guard members to assist the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Texas has bused about 8,000 migrants to Washington since April, including more than 100 Thursday to Vice President Kamala Harris’ home. It has also bused about 2,200 to New York and 300 to Chicago.
Arizona has bused more than 1,800 migrants to Washington since May, but has kept officials on the receiving end well-informed of their plans. The city of El Paso, Texas, has sent at least 1,135 migrants on 28 buses to New York since Aug. 23 and, like Arizona, shares passenger rosters and other information.
Last week, a 2-year-old who arrived in New York was hospitalized for dehydration and a pregnant woman on the same bus was in severe pain, according to advocates and city officials. Volunteer groups such as TLC NYC often wait hours for buses arriving from Texas in a designated space of Manhattan’s Port of Authority Bus Terminal because expected arrival times have been off.
Volunteers find out about buses from tipsters.
“It’s a problem because we don’t know when the buses are coming, how many buses are coming, if anyone on these buses has medical conditions that they will need help with, if they need a wheelchair,” said Manuel Castro, commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “We at least want to know that so that we can best help people as they arrive.”
Castro said a contractor that Texas hired to bus migrants signed an agreement that prohibits them from talking to New York officials. Mayor Eric Adams said this week that the city’s support system is “nearing its breaking point.”
Some fathers have arrived in New York while their spouses and children were sent to Washington, said Ilze Thielmann, a volunteer director with TLC. Volunteers work to reunite them.
Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his administration has reached out to Texas but gets no information. The first migrants arrived at Chicago’s Union Station from Texas on Aug. 31.
“They’re sending people on buses without telling us when they’re coming,” he said Monday. “They sometimes arrive within three hours to perhaps 24 hours’ notice. And this means that we’ve got to provide shelter for them.”
Abbott’s office dismissed complaints about lack of coordination and keeping immigrant-friendly cities guessing about the governor’s next moves as he tries to stoke opposition to President Joe Biden’s border policies.
“These Democrat elites are absolute hypocrites, and now their hypocrisy is on full display for the entire nation,” spokeswoman Renae Eze said Thursday. “Instead of complaining about fulfilling their sanctuary city promises, these Democrat hypocrites should call on President Biden to do his job and secure the border — something the president continues failing to do.”
Arizona has been working since May through the Regional Center for Border Health, which runs clinics for low-income patients in Yuma. Several days a week, a bus heads east from a clinic office in suburban Somerton.
Amanda Aguirre, the health care provider’s CEO, said she told Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s staff that she would refuse participation without close coordination. Text messages pop up on her phone — and those of volunteers in Washington — informing them how many passengers are on a bus, the estimated arrival time and if anyone is having medical problems.
Arizona established information-sharing protocols from the start with Carecen, a nonprofit group that assists migrants in Washington, Aguirre said.
“I think the governor from Texas is the one that made it a very strong political statement where it’s just busing people … and there’s no coordination of anything,” Aguirre said. “I will never allow people just being dropped in the street because that’s what I’m trying to prevent here in Yuma, being just dropped in the street.”
El Paso officials say Venezuelan migrants often request transportation to New York to connect with family and informal support networks. On Monday, the city contracted a private bus company to extend charter service for migrants for 16 months at a cost of up to $2 million. The city bills the federal government for reimbursement.
Some migrants have been unaffected by the chaos around them.
Cleiver Rodriguez of Venezuela arrived from Texas looking for work in New York. He said no one forced him and he appreciated the free ride.
“I don’t have any kind of opinion because at least they helped me get here,” Rodriguez, 24, said as he left a shelter.
Story by Rodrique Ngowi and Claudia Torrens. Associated Press writers Gisela Salomon in Miami; Elliot Spagat in Somerton, Arizona; Roger Schneider in Chicago; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.