Posts make false claims about Martha's Vineyard, migrants

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Online posts claim the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, is a designated "sanctuary" for undocumented migrants, and that a group flown there by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has since been "deported." This is inaccurate; none of the towns on the resort island are sanctuary cities, and the migrants have been relocated to the nearby Joint Base Cape Cod.

"Martha's Vineyard Declared itself as a sanctuary city Until the buses arrived," says a September 19, 2022 Facebook post.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken September 23, 2022

Similar posts circulated on Facebook and Instagram in English and Spanish. Many include photos of the New York Post's September 17, 2022 issue, which had a headline that said: "Liberals deport migrants."

"So much for 'sanctuary,'" says text above the headline of the New York tabloid front page.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken September 21, 2022

On September 4, 2022, DeSantis flew about 50, mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard as part of a political battle over immigration ahead of the US midterm elections.

Since then, several lawsuits have been filed against DeSantis on behalf of migrants who allege they were sent to Martha's Vineyard under false pretenses by the Florida governor, who is now under investigation. DeSantis has justified his actions by describing the island, a Democratic stronghold and popular vacation spot for the country's political elite, as a "sanctuary" destination for undocumented immigrants.

However, neither Massachusetts nor Martha's Vineyard -- which is not a city but instead an island with six separate towns -- have passed sanctuary laws. And despite online claims, the migrants involved have not been deported.

While there is no universal definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction, the nonprofit American Immigration Council says many cities, counties and states that have such policies limit local law enforcement's cooperation with federal immigration authorities. In Los Angeles, for example, police are barred from contacting someone simply to ask about their immigration status.

Ragini Shah, a clinical professor of law at Suffolk University in Boston, told AFP that "none of the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard are sanctuary cities."

"There are eight sanctuary cities in Massachusetts," Shah said.

They include Amherst, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Concord, Newton, Northampton and Somerville. None of those cities are located near Cape Cod.

On the state level, Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2017 that state court officers could not legally collaborate with federal detainers, a key tool that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses for deportation. But Massachusetts has not passed a law establishing sanctuary status as some other US states have, such as California, Colorado and Illinois.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights -- a Boston-based firm that has filed a federal class action lawsuit against DeSantis -- confirmed to AFP that Massachusetts does not have state-wide law granting protections for undocumented immigrants. He also said the migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard have not been deported.

"They were moved to a base on Cape Cod. I personally escorted the migrants to the base," he said.

The migrants agreed to move to the military base as a temporary solution while they determine their next steps.

AFP has fact-checked other claims about US immigration here and here.