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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone September 20, 2022

Military didn’t ‘deport’ immigrants from Martha’s Vineyard

If Your Time is short

  • A group of about 50 immigrants who arrived in Martha’s Vineyard were relocated to a military base on nearby Cape Cod.

  • Deportations are carried out by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, not the military.

  • The military was not involved in the transport to the Cape Cod base, the head of a civil rights group representing the immigrants said. They are not being detained.

Two days after about 50 Venezuelan immigrants were dropped off unannounced at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, they were on the move again.

Local officials, residents and community groups provided shelter and food to the immigrants who arrived on Sept. 14, but they were taken Sept. 16 to nearby Joint Base Cape Cod, a military base with dormitory-style housing, for longer-term shelter.

That led some on social media to allege that the U.S. military was used to "deport" the immigrants off the wealthy island. But that is not what happened. The military wasn’t involved in their transport to the base, and the immigrants went there voluntarily, according to a civil rights group representing many of them.

"Martha’s Vineyard set a beautiful example for the nation," read a screenshot of a tweet shared in a Sept. 18 Instagram post. "They used the military to deport every last illegal migrant from their island in less than 48 hours. The entire nation should emulate Martha’s Vineyard."

"Perfect analysis," read a caption on the post.

A similar post said "Martha’s Vineyard showed Texas and Arizona that it’s OK to use the military to remove" immigrants. Another claimed 300 National Guard members helped move the migrants off the island to "detain" them at the military base.

The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The claim that the military deported the Venezuelans from Martha's Vineyard is wrong on two counts. First, deportation is carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, not the military. It involves sending people back to their home countries, not to another town within the U.S.

Second, the military was not involved in removing the immigrants from the island. It was a plan put in place by Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The immigrants were first flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey made similar moves in election-year efforts likely meant to draw attention to an influx of migrants coming across the U.S. southern border and Biden’s administration. All three governors are Republican.

Martha’s Vineyard, a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts, is home to about 17,000 yearly residents. About 200,000 people spend their summers there, according to the island’s Chamber of Commerce. About 63% of its homes are owned by people who live there seasonally, including former President Barack Obama.

But the wealthy island is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis and not built to handle the sudden arrival of dozens of immigrants, according to Lisa Belcastro, the island’s homeless shelter coordinator. The Washington Post reported that the housing situation is so bad, even doctors can’t afford to live there anymore.

There is no year-round homeless shelter on the island, according to a Dukes County website, just a partnership with a local nonprofit. 

Baker’s office announced the immigrants’ voluntary and temporary move to Joint Base Cape Cod, also in Massachusetts. "The island communities are not equipped to provide sustainable accommodation, and state officials developed a plan to deliver a comprehensive humanitarian response," the state said in a Sept. 16 news release.

The migrants "will have access to the services they need going forward, and Joint Base Cape Cod is well-equipped to serve these needs," the release said. 

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The facility has been designated by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA, as an emergency shelter. It’s been used to house Louisiana residents fleeing Hurricane Katrina, and for medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The site can accommodate families and has space for access to basic health care and legal services. The governor’s office on Sept. 18 said available services also include interpreters and case management to help immigrants access temporary housing.

This video provied by the Massachusetts National Guard shows the dorms where immigrants will be staying at Joint Base Cape Cod.

The MEMA is leading the efforts to provide food, shelter and services to the immigrants, and coordinating with state and local agencies and nonprofits, Baker’s office said in a statement. Included in those efforts are up to 125 members of the Massachusetts National Guard, who were activated to assist.

A MEMA spokesman referred us to the information from the governor’s office and to a local NPR station’s report that quoted Massachusetts state Rep. Dylan Fernandes describing the military presence at the Cape Cod base as minimal.

"In the areas where the families are, it's almost entirely just caseworkers — very few people in uniform," Fernandes told the NPR affiliate, CAI.

The immigrants were taken from Martha’s Vineyard by charter bus, then ferry, to the base. Videos of their journey do not show military members involved in the transport.

That’s because at no point was the military involved in the journey, said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of the group Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston.

"Absolutely not. I personally escorted the migrants from the church in Martha's Vineyard to the base in Cape Cod. Lawyers for Civil Rights was involved in every step of the process, and it was seamlessly carried out with dignity for each individual and child," said Espinoza-Madrigal. "They are now safely in the base, where they can have faster and easier access to resources and support."

Espinoza-Madrigal also said the immigrants are not being detained there. "They are 100% voluntarily at the base," he said.

Lawyers for Civil Rights said on its website that it is representing more than 30 of the immigrants, and it is also pushing for legal action against DeSantis and others, accusing them of using false pretenses to lure the immigrants onto a plane to cross state lines.

Our ruling

An Instagram post Martha’s Vineyard "used the military to deport every last illegal migrant from their island."

That is not what happened. The Massachusetts governor, in coordination with state and local officials, offered to move the migrants, on a voluntary basis, to Joint Base Cape Cod, a military base that’s also one of the state’s designated emergency shelters. The site has the space to care for the immigrants that Martha’s Vineyard does not. The military was not involved in the voluntary transport.

In the context of immigration, a deportation refers to the removal of a person from the United States, not the relocation of people within the country.

We rate this claim False.


What we know about DeSantis flying migrants to Martha's Vineyard

In Context: What a Martha’s Vineyard homeless shelter coordinator said about migrant housing

Our Sources

Instagram post, Sept. 18

Massachusetts governor’s office press release, "Baker-Polito Administration Announces Coordinated Support for Newly Arriving Families and Individuals to the Commonwealth," Sept. 16, 2022

Massachusetts governor’s office press release, "Baker-Polito Administration Provides Update Regarding Emergency Response Plan for Migrants Sheltering at Joint Base Cape Cod," Sept. 18, 2022

Email exchange with Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of the group Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, Sept. 19, 2022

Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, "Legal First Responders for Migrants in Martha’s Vineyard," accessed Sept. 19, 2022

Cape Cod Times, "Cape Cod organizations helping migrants who settled on the military base: What we know," Sept. 19, 2022

Cape Cod Times, "What you need to know about Martha's Vineyard," Sept. 15, 2022

PolitiFact, "What we know about DeSantis flying migrants to Martha's Vineyard," Sept. 16, 2022

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed Sept. 19, 2022

Dukes County, "Martha's Vineyard Emergency Shelter Programs," accessed Sept. 19, 2022

Massachusetts National Guard, "Joint Base Cape Cod," Sept. 18, 2022, "Deportation," accessed Sept. 19, 2022

CAI, local NPR for the Cape, Coast and Islands, "Migrants at the Base: here's how they're set up and what comes next," Sept, 19, 2022

The Washington Post, "On Martha’s Vineyard, even the doctors can’t afford housing anymore," Sept. 16, 2022

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Military didn’t ‘deport’ immigrants from Martha’s Vineyard

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