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The island of Martha’s Vineyard is not itself a city. It’s made up of six small towns.
At least three towns on the island of Martha’s Vineyard — Edgartown, Chilmark and Tisbury — voted to adopt sanctuary policies in 2017. The migrants stayed at a shelter in Edgartown for two nights. They were then offered longer-term accomodations at nearby Cape Cod.
There is no legal definition of “sanctuary city” or “sanctuary state.” But the American Immigration Council defines sanctuary policies as those for which "state and local officials will limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials, but do not actively prevent federal officials from carrying out their immigration enforcement duties."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ move to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, generated plenty of criticism. But GOP leaders pushed back with a repeated claim — that the island had already declared itself a sanctuary destination.
Peggy Hubbard, a former Illinois candidate for U.S. Senate, expressed the claim on Facebook. "Martha's Vineyard declared itself as a sanctuary city until the buses arrived," she wrote in a Sep. 19 post along with two laughter emojis.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
In this case, there’s some basis for the claim that the island has embraced sanctuary policies, but the description could benefit from more context.
That’s partly because Martha’s Vineyard isn’t a city; it’s made up of six small towns.
We didn’t find evidence that Martha’s Vineyard as a whole has officially embraced sanctuary status. But, in 2017, three towns on the island did — including Edgartown, where the Venezuelan migrants were temporarily housed at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
Before getting too far into the weeds, it helps to understand what "sanctuary" status really means. Experts told us it’s less a legal term than a political one.
The American Immigration Council defines sanctuary policies as those for which "state and local officials will limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials, but do not actively prevent federal officials from carrying out their immigration enforcement duties."
And the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has defined a sanctuary jurisdiction as a "community with a policy, written or unwritten, that discourages local law enforcement from reporting the immigration status of individuals unless it involves investigation of a serious crime."
That aligns with action leaders in Edgartown, Chilmark and Tisbury appear to have taken.
Minutes from Edgartown’s 2017 annual town meeting show its board of selectmen unanimously approved an article "to authorize law enforcement and all town officials to refrain from using town funds and/or resources to enforce federal immigration laws, in keeping with current practice, unless presented with a criminal warrant or other evidence of probable cause, as required by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution."
We reached out to officials in the three remaining communities — Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury and Aquinnah. Town administrators in West Tisbury and Aquinnah told PolitiFact that the town has not adopted sanctuary policies. We didn’t hear back from anyone in Oak Bluffs. And though we searched its meeting minutes, we did not find evidence that Oak Bluffs leaders have approved any measures adopting sanctuary policies.
Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, explained that a legal definition for "sanctuary" doesn’t exist.
"It's a catch-all phrase, in popular terminology, to include a bunch of states and cities depending on various levels of their attitudes toward immigrants," Chishti said previously.
We reached out to Hubbard for evidence behind her claim but didn’t get a response.
Martha’s Vineyard residents worked with local and state officials to provide temporary shelter and necessities after the migrants arrived Sept. 14. Two days later, the Venezuelans were offered housing at a military base on nearby Cape Cod. At the time, Gov. Charlie Baker said "the island communities are not equipped to provide sustainable accommodation, and state officials developed a plan to deliver a comprehensive humanitarian response."
Massachusetts itself is not a sanctuary jurisdiction, although Democrats have tried to pass a bill to change that. In 2017, Massachusetts legislators proposed a bill called the Safe Communities Act, which sought to limit federal immigration enforcement practices throughout the commonwealth. Massachusetts Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, both Democrats who represent the area that includes Martha’s Vineyard, voted in favor of the bill, though the effort ultimately stalled.
Since then, Democratic legislators reintroduced the bill, including during this year’s legislative session.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors low immigration, lists eight other Massachusetts cities as sanctuaries for immigrants: Amherst, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Concord, Newton, Northampton and Somerville. The towns on Martha’s Vineyard are not named, though it’s not clear why.
Hubbard wrote that ""Martha's Vineyard declared itself as a sanctuary city until the buses arrived."
Martha’s Vineyard is not a city; it’s an island made up of six small towns. At least three of those towns — Edgartown, Chilsmark and Tisbury — in 2017 adopted sanctuary policies. The migrants stayed temporarily in Edgartown after they arrived on Martha’s Vineyard. Two days later, they were offered accomodations at a military base on Cape Cod.
The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate this claim Half True.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
First Coast News, Watch: Governor DeSantis press conference in Miami, Sept. 22, 2022
Martha’s Vineyard, Towns of Martha's Vineyard, accessed Sept. 23, 2022
Cape Cod Times, Want to make a donation for migrants on Cape Cod military base? Here's how you can help. Sept. 15, 2022
Episcopal News Service, Episcopal church on Martha’s Vineyard takes in migrants flown in by surprise, Sept. 16, 2022
Cape Cod Times, Venezuelan migrants leave Martha's Vineyard by ferry, heading to Joint Base Cape Cod, Sept. 16, 2022
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, What are sanctuary cities and why do they exist? July 12, 2021
NBC 10 Boston, Is Massachusetts a ‘Sanctuary State'? It's Complicated, Sept. 15, 2022
CBS News, Massachusetts has 8 sanctuary cities and how they cooperate varies, Sept. 15, 2022
Center for Immigration Studies, Map: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States, last updated March 22, 2021
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Bill S.1305, accessed Sept. 23, 2022
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Bill S. 1579, accessed Sept. 23, 2022
Interview with Augusta Davis, spokesperson for Dem. State Senator Julian Cyr, Sep. 23, 2022
Town of Edgartown 2017 Annual Report, Article 69, accessed Sept. 23, 2022
Town of Chilmark Annual Town Meeting 2017, Article 32, accessed April 24, 2017
Town of Tisbury Full Annual Report, accessed Sept. 26, 2022
Interview with Jennifer Rand, Town Administrator for West Tisbury, Sept. 26, 2022
Oak Bluffs Town Meeting Resource Center, accessed Sept. 26, 2022
PolitiFact, Military didn’t ‘deport’ immigrants from Martha’s Vineyard, Sept. 20, 2022
NPR, After migrants arrived in Martha's Vineyard, a community gathered to welcome them, Sept. 16, 2022
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