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Migrants sent to Martha's Vineyard are being rehoused in Cape Cod

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The 50 Venezuelan migrants who were flown from Texas to Martha's Vineyard this week have been moved again. They're now on a military base on Cape Cod, where Massachusetts authorities say they can be better cared for. Member station WBUR's Simon Rios talked to several migrants, and he joins us now. Simon, thanks for being with us.

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: You were on Martha's Vineyard. What did the people there tell you about how they got there?

RIOS: So the universal story among these 50 Venezuelans - it seems they trekked from Venezuela from different parts of the country through the jungle of Panama. We're talking kids as young as 2 to one gentleman I interviewed who is almost 70. And after presenting themselves to border officials in Texas, where they sought asylum, they were released and ended up in San Antonio. That's where several of them told me - this is where it gets weird, Scott - they were approached by a woman who promised to get them to a sanctuary area where they'd be taken care of. It's unclear who this person was and who she worked for, but she coordinated the flight to Massachusetts. So they knew they were coming here, but they didn't know they were going to this wealthy, secluded island until they were on the plane. And they had no idea about the larger political story unfolding around them. I spoke to one young immigrant who wouldn't use his name for fear of deportation. He told me he fled Venezuela for his safety. He was worried about both crime and the authoritarian government.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

RIOS: "We were used," he said. "We were tricked. This woman told us we'd have a place to live, monetary support. We'd be fed and even given English classes." So now, Scott, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida says these people went to Massachusetts voluntarily. His rationale for chartering planes from Texas to Martha's Vineyard was that Venezuelans could have ended up in Florida, and he says his state has the money to move more migrants to places considered sanctuary jurisdictions.

SIMON: Simon, these folks were sent to Martha's Vineyard to make a point. How were they received at Martha's Vineyard?

RIOS: There was an incredible outpouring of support. The islanders felt compassion. Many of them - I shouldn't say all - they said the Venezuelans were being treated as pawns, and they wanted to do everything they could to help. But it also seemed absurd to pretty much everybody there that they'd come to this tiny island of 20,000 residents going into the cold season with very few jobs and almost no housing. So leading the effort to house and feed the Venezuelans for two days on Martha's Vineyard was Lisa Belcastro. She's the coordinator for the island's homeless shelter. I talked to her as the migrants were being ferried to Cape Cod.

LISA BELCASTRO: Everybody had everybody's back. And whatever you needed, you're just like, you text someone, you call someone, or they offered, you know? And it's like, all the organizations worked together, and the whole community came together.

SIMON: And they're now being housed at Joint Base Cape Cod. Do we know what might be next for them?

RIOS: Look, we should say first, they're not in custody, so they willingly were transferred to the base. And an attorney representing them who spent all of yesterday inside the base with the 50 Venezuelans - he said it's a good situation they're in. He felt very confident about that. That's Ivan Espinoza, the head of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston. So he said being on the base will allow the Venezuelans to access medical and legal attention - you know, things they didn't have just a few days ago.

SIMON: Simon Rios of WBUR, thanks so much for being with us.

RIOS: Thanks for having me, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Simon Rios
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.