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50 migrants arrive at Martha's Vineyard airport, sent from Texas by DeSantis

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Two planeloads of migrants arrived on Martha's Vineyard yesterday afternoon without warning. This marks a new escalation in the political fight over border security. The migrants were flown from Texas on planes chartered by the state of Florida. And just this morning, two busloads of migrants were dropped off outside the official residence of the vice president in Washington.

NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and joins us now. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So let's start with Martha's Vineyard. Can you explain what happened with these flights?

ROSE: Yeah. We're still putting together the details. But about 50 migrants were on two planes that landed on Martha's Vineyard yesterday afternoon, mostly Venezuelans. The planes were funded by the state of Florida, but they actually originated in south Texas. Three of those migrants tell NPR they had been staying at a migrant shelter in San Antonio. They say they were lured onto the flights with the false promise of expedited work permits and that they were misled about exactly where it was they were going. We know that the flights also stopped in Florida and South Carolina on their way to Martha's Vineyard.

MCCAMMON: So why is Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, doing this? Why is he flying migrants from Texas to Massachusetts?

ROSE: This is like political reality TV. Governor DeSantis accuses progressive-run cities and states of incentivizing illegal immigration by not fully enforcing immigration laws while at the same time not actually dealing with the consequences of increased migration at the southern border. Here's DeSantis at a press conference earlier today.

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RON DESANTIS: The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk. And they're so upset that this is happening. And it just shows you, you know, their virtue signaling is a fraud, OK?

ROSE: DeSantis has talked publicly before about sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard because it has a reputation as a summer resort for wealthy and powerful liberals. Even DeSantis has said, though, that that was partly tongue-in-cheek. But now, he has actually followed through.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. So, Joel, how are the residents of Martha's Vineyard responding?

ROSE: Well, so they're trying their best to make these migrants feel welcome. The migrants are staying for now at a church shelter on the island. State and local officials say they're trying their best to help them. By the way, that includes the office of Governor Charlie Baker, who is a Republican like DeSantis. And there's been some real outrage from Democrats and immigrant advocates who say that these migrants are being used for political gain. Here's Lisa Belcastro, the director of the homeless shelter on Martha's Vineyard.

LISA BELCASTRO: We'll do everything we can. And you can believe this island community will do everything they can, but they need more. These people are pawns. And we have to stop the chess game right now because they're human beings, and they don't deserve to be treated as they're being treated. And shame on everyone involved.

ROSE: Some prominent Democrats are calling on the Department of Justice to investigate whether any laws were broken here, including Congressman Joaquin Castro, who represents San Antonio in the House, also California Governor Gavin Newsom.

MCCAMMON: And this isn't a new tactic, exactly, for Republican governors. Joel, why do you think we are seeing this escalation now?

DESANTIS: Yeah, that's right. For months, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered the state to pay for charter buses in order to move migrants from the border to cities in the north, including Washington, D.C., New York and now Chicago. And just this morning two of those buses dropped off about 100 migrants near the official residence of the vice president in D.C.

As for timing, I would point out that both Governors Abbott and DeSantis are both running for reelection, and these tactics get a lot of attention, particularly on Fox News and right-wing media. But these governors say they're calling attention to a real border security issue. And it's true. The U.S. Border Patrol has made a record number of apprehensions at the southern border this year.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks so much.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Joel Rose
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.