Surprise is a key part of Florida Texas migrant journeys

The CEO of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work Wednesday when she looked outside and saw 48 strangers approach her office with red folders containing brochures about her organization.

Venezuelan migrants who were transported 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 fellow Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s playbook by surprising Democratic-led cities and states with large influxes of migrants. Providing little or no information is part of the plan.

“They were told they would have jobs and housing,” said Elizabeth Folcarelli, who heads Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, and described the struggle for shelter as “a big challenge.”

Julio Henriques, a lawyer who met with several migrants, said they “had no idea where they were going or where they were.”

Two flights to Martha’s Vineyard have stopped in the Florida Panhandle, Enriquez said. While on board, the migrants received pamphlets and maps of Massachusetts.

An unsigned letter tells migrants to notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of address changes, even though another agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is responsible for tracking migrants, Enriquez said. “It’s terrible advice,” he said.

Many immigrants have appointments with ICE on September 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 mandatory background checks would be delayed, Enriquez said. Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

On Friday, the migrants were 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 on Thursday to the home of Vice President Kamala Harris. It also ran about 2,200 buses to New York and 300 to Chicago.

Arizona has bussed more than 1,800 migrants to Washington since May, but has kept host country officials 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, is sharing passenger lists and other information.

Last week, a 2-year-old child 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 like TLC NYC often wait hours for buses arriving from Texas in a designated area at the Manhattan Port Bus Terminal because the expected times of arrival have passed.

The volunteers learn about the buses from the informants.

“It’s a problem because we don’t know when the buses are coming, how many buses are coming, if anyone on those buses has medical issues that they’re going to need help with, if they need a wheelchair,” said Manuel Castro, commissioner of the Office on New York City Mayor’s Immigrant Affairs. “At least we want to know that so we can best help people when they arrive.”

Castro said a contractor Texas hired to transport migrants had signed an agreement barring them from speaking with authorities in New York. Mayor Eric Adams said this week that the city’s maintenance system is “close to its breaking point.”

Some fathers arrived in New York while their spouses and children were sent to Washington, said Ilse Thielman, volunteer director at TLC. Volunteers are working to put them back together.

Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said his administration had contacted Texas but had not heard back. The first migrants arrived at Chicago’s Union Station from Texas on August 31.

“They’re sending people in buses without telling us when they’re coming,” he said Monday. “They sometimes arrive within three hours to maybe 24 hours notice. And that means we have to provide them with shelter.”

Abbott’s office dismissed complaints of a lack of coordination and leaving immigrant-friendly cities guessing about the governor’s next moves as he tries to drum up opposition to President Joe Biden’s border policies.

“These Democratic elites are absolute hypocrites, and now their hypocrisy is out in front of the entire nation,” spokeswoman Renee Eze said Thursday. “Instead of complaining about the implementation of their sanctuary city promises, these hypocritical Democrats should be calling on President Biden to do his job and secure the border, something the president continues to fail to do.”

Arizona has been operating since May through the Regional Border Health Center, which operates clinics for low-income patients in Yuma. Several days a week, a bus runs east from a clinic in the suburb of Somerton.

Amanda Aguirre, the health care provider’s CEO, said she told Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s staff that she would decline participation without close coordination. Text messages pop up on her phone — and those of volunteers in Washington — informing them how many passengers are on the bus, the estimated time of arrival and whether anyone has medical problems.

Arizona established information-sharing protocols from the start with Carecen, a nonprofit that assists migrants in Washington, Aguirre said.

“I think the governor from Texas is the one who made a very strong political statement when people are just bussing … and there’s no coordination,” Aguirre said. “I’m never going to let people just be dumped on the street because that’s what I’m trying to prevent here in Yuma, just being dumped on 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 signed a contract with a private bus company to extend migrant charter services for 16 months at a cost of up to $2 million. The city bills the federal government for reimbursement.

Some migrants are unaffected by the chaos around them.

Claver Rodriguez from Venezuela arrived from Texas in search of work in New York. He said no one forced him and he appreciated the free ride.

“I don’t have any opinion because at least they helped me get here,” Rodriguez, 24, said as he left a shelter.

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Torrance reported from New York. Associated Press writers Gisela Salomon in Miami; Eliot Spagat in Summerton, Arizona; Roger Schneider in Chicago; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

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