WASHINGTON — The White House denounced transports of Latin and South American migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, D.C., by Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, while DeSantis’s rival for the governorship called for him to be investigated by the Department of Justice.
“Using migrants as political pawns is shameful,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Thursday’s press briefing, as images circulated on social media of 50 migrants from Venezuela disembarking on Wednesday evening from two airplanes on Martha’s Vineyard, a remote island off the Massachusetts coast where presidents, movie stars and cultural and political elites are known to vacation.
The flights originated in Texas but had been ordered by DeSantis, on the presumption that “states like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration,” as a DeSantis spokeswoman said in a statement.
“It’s really just disrespectful to humanity,” Jean-Pierre said, describing the transports as a “cruel, premeditated political stunt.”
On Thursday morning, two buses carrying about 100 migrants that had originated in Texas arrived at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. The gated complex is home to Vice President Kamala Harris, whose portfolio includes addressing the “root causes” of migration.
“She’s the border czar, and we felt that if she won’t come down to see the border, if President Biden will not come down and see the border, we will make sure they see it firsthand,” Abbott explained in a radio interview.
Throughout the last several months, Abbott has been sending migrants attempting to enter the U.S. without proper authorization to cities like Washington, D.C., and New York as a way to highlight what he sees as the hypocrisy of progressive cities and states that support undocumented immigrants but do not have to directly deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border, which has most severely impacted states like Texas and Arizona.
DeSantis, who is widely expected to seek the presidency in 2024, indicated in late August that he was interested in following Abbott’s lead.
According to NPR, migrants who had arrived in San Antonio were offered passage to Boston by a woman who identified herself as “Perla.” She “offered us help,” a 30-year-old migrant named Andres Duarte said, “help that never arrived. And now we’re here. We got on the plane with a vision of the future, making it.”
Residents of Martha’s Vineyard had reportedly not been warned by DeSantis’s office that migrants were en route. “That’s not how you treat people,” Jean-Pierre said. “That’s inhumane.” A humanitarian effort was quickly launched, in what Massachusetts state legislator Dylan Fernandes, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, called “the best of America.”
Activists sharply criticized DeSantis. “Venezuelans come to Florida because this is where they have their families and support networks,” Yaneth Galvis of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said in a statement. “We ask you to have humanity and not use us as political tokens. We came to work and contribute to this country.”
Comparing DeSantis to the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, his Democratic challenger in the gubernatorial race, Charlie Crist, called for a Department of Justice investigation into the migrant transports. So did California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sent U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland a letter in which he argued that because the migrants had been fooled into agreeing to the flights, prosecution could be justified under sweeping racketeering statutes.
While the White House rarely shies away from a fight with Abbott or DeSantis, it has struggled to convince Americans that the Biden administration has adequately addressed the persistent crisis at the southern border.
“We’re not going to flip a switch and get that done,” Jean-Pierre said on Thursday. But, she added, “we need to do it in a humane way. We need to do it in a safe way.”
This story was updated to reflect that $12 million was allocated by the Florida Legislature for a migrant transport program, not specially for flights.