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Migrants at the Base: here's how they're set up and what comes next

MV migrant bus
Liz Lerner
/
CAI
The group left Martha's Vineyard on Friday morning via the MV Governor ferry. They then made their way to Joint Base Cape Cod on a chartered bus under police escort.

Since Friday afternoon, the 49 mostly Venezuelan migrants, whose unexpected arrival in the region caused a national sensation, are temporarily — and voluntarily — living on the grounds of Joint Base Cape Cod. Here’s what we know:

  • The men, women, and children are now staying in dormitories on Joint Base Cape Cod. Each person is entitled to a room to themselves, but the configuration of the buildings allowed organizers to create specific housing areas for families, who will remain together as a unit.
  • The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reports that it’s working together with local nonprofits and state agencies to provide the migrants with clothing and hygiene kits, meals, and ongoing transportation services. Officials say health care, mental health care, and interpreters are also available.
  • The Bourne Public School system is supporting the six migrant children at the base with educational services.
  • Officials say at this time all immediate needs of the migrants are being met — and unsolicited volunteers and donations cannot be accepted at Joint Base Cape Cod. Individuals and organizations looking to support emergency relief efforts like this should send an email to the Massachusetts Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters at MAVOAD@gmail.com.

Local representatives tour the facilities  

On Monday morning, state representative Dylan Fernandes and state senator Julian Cyr spent about an hour at Joint Base Cape Cod touring the facilities for the humanitarian effort and talking with migrants. When they emerged, they spoke with reporters, describing what they saw.

“I have seen people that are really being well taken care of,” Fernandes said. “It's really a good, humane and comfortable setup for the people here. They're in good shape and they're happy and they're just incredibly grateful for all the services being provided to them.”

In a large cafeteria, Fernandes said, a schedule is posted, with information in Spanish, providing meal times. “On the sides of this cafeteria area are places set up for direct services,” Fernandes explained. “So we have housing services set up there with HAC [Housing Assistance Corporation] on Cape Cod being our local provider here.”

Recreational equipment is available as well, including a basketball hoop, basketball, and soccer balls.

Any sense of a military presence is very minimal, said Fernandes. “In the areas where the families are it's almost entirely just caseworkers – very few people in uniform."

Legal status and assistance a critical piece of the overall picture

Attorneys have access to an entire floor of a dormitory on the base for private meetings to help the migrants as they work through their immigration cases, and to help those who may seek asylum.

Having technology access has been critical to providing this help.

“[Base officials] boosted cell reception for adequate cell service and wi-fi service,” state senator Julian Cyr said. “IPads have been deployed so that they can comply with upcoming federal hearings. And even printers and scanners have been brought in at the request of attorneys.”

Cyr said every migrant is in compliance with federal immigration, and they’re in various stages of that process.

“Each and every one of them, all have alien numbers, which is the basically the number you get when you start interacting with federal immigration,” Cyr said. “So even the terminology that's being used, referring to them as ‘illegal immigrants,’ or ‘illegal migrants,’ is incorrect.”

As of Monday, officials report two migrants are leaving for New York City, where they have friends or family waiting.

“Some people have family in other places in the country,” Cyr said. “So they're interested in meeting up with them. And then I think others will want to stay in Massachusetts. And we're going to do everything we can to make sure they have a soft landing here for a more sustainable future.”

MORE: Migrant group sheltering on MV moves to Joint Base Cape Cod

How did we get here? 

The mostly Venezuelan men, women, and children, voluntarily moved to Joint Base Cape Cod on Friday after initially being sent to the island by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis; it’s part of his state’s $12 million relocation program to divert undocumented migrants to so-called sanctuary states.

Speaking to reporters after touring the base, Cyr challenged the morality of DeSantis’s program.

“If this was about helping vulnerable people who are trying to make a better life here, how you do that is through coordination, right?” Cyr said. He cited the base program as a model. “This is an example of good governance, of government coordinating at the state, at the local level, with federal assistance. [DeSantis’s program] wasn't about any of that, right? That’s about a $600,000 political stunt at the expense of women and children and families who are simply seeking a better life.” Cyr said that he felt the Florida governor's relocation program isn’t about “having a productive conversation on immigration, on the border crisis. This is about manipulating vulnerable families for political gain.”

Members of the group have said they were told by a woman they called “Perla” that they were headed to other destinations. Critics believe they may, by legal definition, have been therefore illegally trafficked by DeSantis. Local officials, including Fernandes and Cyr, are calling for an investigation by the Department of Justice.

No matter how bad a crisis is,” Fernandes said to reporters, “it does not excuse using women and children, families, vulnerable people, as political pawns, lying to them, putting them through this really traumatic charade.” He added, “That is, in my mind, an evil thing to do. It is just completely unacceptable.”

Cyr said that he spoke with three brothers among the migrant group, all of whom said they left Venezuela because of the political situation with the country under a communist dictator, and because of the lack of opportunities for work. “These are people who, some of them, have pretty substantial skills,” Cyr said. “I was talking to one who studied to be and has a degree as a systems engineer. They're eager to work. They're eager to get settled and be part of society.”

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.
Steve is Managing Editor of News. He came to WCAI in 2007. He also hosts the weekly News Roundup on Friday mornings and produces The Fishing News.