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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event Friday, March 10, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ron Johnson) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event Friday, March 10, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ron Johnson)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event Friday, March 10, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ron Johnson)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 11, 2023

Ron DeSantis falsely said migrants deported from Martha’s Vineyard within 24 hours

If Your Time is short

  • A group of about 50 migrants who arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in September was relocated within days to a military base on nearby Cape Cod. They were not removed from the United States, and they remain in the U.S. now, according to attorneys.

  • Deportations generally are carried out by federal immigration agencies, not the National Guard.

  • The Massachusetts National Guard provided logistical support in the form of lodging and dining facilities at the Cape Cod base, but did not transport the migrants from Martha's Vineyard, a spokesperson said.

As he moves toward a potential bid for president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has highlighted his efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, including flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last year.

In an April 6 speech at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan, DeSantis said Florida had banned "sanctuary cities" and caught thousands of Haitians and Cubans who had arrived illegally by sea. 

DeSantis also said Democrats and "legacy media" care about people who are in the U.S. illegally only when they show up at "beautiful Martha’s Vineyard."

On Sept. 14, DeSantis flew around 50 immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard in what was intended as an attack on the Biden administration’s immigration record. It mirrored actions at the time by other Republican governors in Texas and Arizona. The migrants flown to the island off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts, mostly Venezuelans, had previously been in Texas. 

Two days after arriving on Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants were taken to nearby Joint Base Cape Cod, a military base with dormitory-style housing, for longer-term shelter.

"Then they got really upset about that….," DeSantis said in his speech, regarding the migrants’ arrival at Martha’s Vineyard. "They called out the National Guard and deported them within 24 hours. So these are people, these leftist elites, they want to impose their vision on society but they don't want to have to suffer the consequences of that vision, they want you to suffer the consequences."

DeSantis was parroting viral statements similar to ones we debunked in September.

We asked DeSantis for his evidence to support the claim and his spokesperson, Jeremy Redfern, replied via email, "Massachusetts called in the National Guard to ‘deport’ the migrants from Martha’s Vineyard." In his reply, Redfern cited a Sept. 16 New York Post article about the migrants, but the article referred to a "relocation program," not deportation.

DeSantis is wrong on two counts. First, the migrants were not deported, which occurs when people are removed from the United States and sent back to their country of origin or, in some cases, to a third country. Second, deportations are generally carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal immigration agencies — not the National Guard. 

The Massachusetts National Guard provided some assistance to the migrants on Cape Cod, including lodging and dining facilities. The agency did not transport the migrants from Martha’s Vineyard, a spokesperson said. 

DeSantis and the Florida Republican-led Legislature are moving toward passing additional immigration restrictions by the time the session ends in early May.

In February, DeSantis called for mandating the use of E-Verify to vet the eligibility of workers, invalidating undocumented immigrants’ out-of-state licenses and requiring hospitals to collect data on the patients’ immigration status. 

Migrants who arrived at Martha’s Vineyard in September were relocated 

Martha’s Vineyard is home to about 17,000 yearly residents, while about 200,000 people spend the summer there. About 63% of its homes are owned by people who live there seasonally, including former President Barack Obama.

The wealthy island is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis and not equipped to handle the sudden arrival of dozens of immigrants, said Lisa Belcastro, the island’s homeless shelter coordinator, in September. There is no year-round homeless shelter on the island.

Featured Fact-check

On Cape Cod, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency led efforts to provide the immigrants with food, shelter and services, and coordinated with state and local agencies and nonprofit agencies. The migrants were provided access to health care, case management for housing and educational support for children and regular trips into the community for medical and other needs. 

The Cape Cod shelter closed Oct. 7.

Monika Langarica, a staff attorney at the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law, told us in September that "movement between states or regions within the United States is not a deportation." 

The migrants remain in the U.S. and are seeking asylum

The Vineyard Gazette reported in March that of the 49 migrants, four of them ended up back on the island.

"Over the winter they have quietly settled into island life, taking English classes at night and working odd jobs as they begin to navigate the labyrinthine American immigration system, a process that can take years," the Gazette wrote.

Rachel Self, an immigration lawyer representing five of the migrants, told us that she is not aware of any of the migrants being deported. She said that the migrants have applied for asylum and U visas, which are set aside for victims of certain crimes. Self said that most of the migrants have stayed in Massachusetts.

The Lawyers for Civil Rights, an organization headquartered in Boston that represents immigrants and people of color, filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit in September against DeSantis and other Florida officials, challenging the transportation of the migrants to the island. 

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the group, told PolitiFact that "none of the clients have been deported." The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts also told PolitiFact that it is unaware of any deportations.

Our ruling

DeSantis said when migrants arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, "They called out the National Guard and deported them within 24 hours."

The migrants were relocated to a Cape Cod military base and were not removed from the United States. They remain in the U.S. today.

Deportations are carried out by federal immigration authorities, not the National Guard.

We rate this statement False.

RELATED: All of our fact-checks of claims by and about DeSantis

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about immigration

RELATED: Fact-checking 2024 presidential candidates, who’s running

Our Sources

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Speech at Hillsdale College, April 6, 2023

New York Post, Massachusetts gov calls up National Guard over 50 Martha’s Vineyard migrants, Sept. 16, 2022

Masslive, Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard will be offered shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod shelter, Sept. 16, 2022

Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Tweet, Sept. 18, 2022

Cape Cod Times, Venezuelan migrants leaving Joint Base Cape. Here's where they are going. Oct. 5, 2022

Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Press release, Oct. 4, 2022

Washington Post, A lawyer and a sheriff help Martha’s Vineyard migrants get a ‘bit of justice’ Jan. 20, 2023

Vineyard Gazette, Finding their way, Venezuelan migrants put down new island roots, March 2, 2023, Migrants DeSantis Flew to Martha’s Vineyard Were Not ‘Deported the Next Day,’ as He Claimed, March 22, 2023

CBS Boston, Migrants navigate complicated immigration process 6 months after flight to Martha's Vineyard, March 29, 2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Press release, Feb. 23, 2023

U.S. District Court for the district of Massachusetts, Alianza Americas v. DeSantis1:22-cv-11550, March 7, 2023

PolitiFact, Military didn’t ‘deport’ immigrants from Martha’s Vineyard, Sept. 20, 2022

PolitiFact, Claim that Martha’s Vineyard ‘deported’ migrants is wrong, Sept. 21, 2022

PolitiFact, At least three Martha’s Vineyard towns adopted sanctuary policies in 2017, Sept. 27, 2022

Massachusetts National Guard, Statement to PolitiFact, April 10, 2023

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Timeline of migrant response, April 11, 2023

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Statement to PolitiFact, April 11, 2023

Email interview, Jeremy T. Redfern, Gov. Ron DeSantis spokesperson, April 10, 2023

Email interview, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director Lawyers for Civil Rights, April 10, 2023

Telephone interview, Rachel Self, immigration attorney, April 11, 2023

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Ron DeSantis falsely said migrants deported from Martha’s Vineyard within 24 hours

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