Republican governors expanded their tactic of sending migrants to Democratic strongholds without warning, including a wealthy summer enclave in Massachusetts and the Washington home of Vice President Kamala Harris.
The governors of Texas and Arizona have sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago and Washington in recent months, but the latest moves — which included two surprise flights to Martha's Vineyard Wednesday paid for by Florida — reached a new level that critics derided as inhumane.
Upon arrival in Martha's Vineyard, where former President Barack Obama has a home, the migrants who are predominantly from Venezuela were provided with meals, shelter, health care and information about where to find work.
The vacation island south of Boston, whose year-round residents include many blue-collar workers, appeared to absorb the dozens of arrivals without a hitch.
"We are a community that comes together to support immigrants," said State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents the area.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, based in Boston, said it was providing free legal services and investigating whether Florida's governor may have violated human trafficking laws if it turns out any migrants were sent against their will or duped into taking the flights.
The president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Domingo Garcia, said that some of the migrants sent on buses from Texas to Washington were tricked — an allegation that AP has not confirmed and that officials in Texas and Arizona have denied.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' office didn't answer questions about where migrants boarded planes and how they were coaxed into making the trip.
Massachusetts state Sen. Julian Cyr told The Vineyard Gazette that one plane originated in San Antonio, Texas, raising questions about whether the migrants ever set foot in Florida. Flight tracking data shows a flight originated in San Antonio, stopped in Crestview, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina, before landing in Martha's Vineyard.
The two buses of migrants from Texas that arrived early Thursday outside Harris' residence at the United States Naval Observatory carried more than 100 migrants from Colombia, Cuba, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela.
"The Biden-Harris administration continues ignoring and denying the historic crisis at our southern border, which has endangered and overwhelmed Texas communities for almost two years," said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is up for reelection and has poured billions of taxpayer dollars into making border security a signature issue.
After migrants seeking asylum cross the U.S.-Mexico border, they are processed in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility along the border and enter the country legally pending the outcome of their cases in immigration court.
Republicans say Biden's policies encourage migrants to vanish into the U.S.; Democrats argue the Trump-era policy of forcing migrants to wait out their asylum cases in Mexico was inhumane.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that federal officials were not told in advance by the Republican governors who sent the migrants to Massachusetts and Washington.
"We're talking about children, we're talking about families who were promised a home, promised a job, put on a bus and driven to a place that they do not know," said Jean-Pierre.
Abbott has bused 7,900 migrants to Washington since April, later sending 2,200 to New York and 300 to Chicago. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has bused more than 1,800 migrants to Washington since May. Passengers must sign waivers that the free trips are voluntary.
DeSantis appears to be taking the strategy to a new level by using planes and choosing Martha's Vineyard, whose harbor towns that are home to about 15,000 people are far less prepared than New York or Washington for large influxes of migrants.
Texas and Florida have infuriated officials in destination cities by failing to provide passenger rosters, estimated times of arrival and other information that would make it easier to prepare. In contrast, Arizona has coordinated with officials in other cities.
President Joe Biden is facing the same challenges as earlier presidents: a dysfunctional asylum system in the United States, and economic and social conditions that are prompting people from dozens of countries to flee.
U.S. authorities stopped migrants crossing from Mexico about 2 million times from October through July, up nearly 50% from the same period a year earlier.