Religious groups are teaming with migrant advocacy networks and government agencies to serve asylum seekers recently sent by bus to Washington, D.C., and by plane to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., by the governors of Arizona, Texas and Florida to protest White House immigration policies.
The political ploy by the Republican leaders included Texas Gov. Greg Abbot sending two buses of migrants to the D.C. residence of Vice President Kamala Harris Sept. 15, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis paying to send 50 asylum seekers in two planes from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard a day earlier. Florida shares no land border with a foreign country, but DeSantis shares Abbott’s desire to make a point about immigration.
These and previous moves elicited condemnations from migrant rights advocates.
The migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were taken in by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in nearby Edgartown, Mass.
The congregation’s Facebook page indicated the surrounding community also was rallying in support of unexpected arrivals: “Thank you for the outpouring of offers of food, clothing, money and other necessities for our brothers and sisters staying with us at St. Andrew’s.”
The Vineyard Gazette newspaper reported that community groups quickly mounted an all-hands-on-deck response to help the bewildered migrants: “A coalition of emergency management officials, faith groups, nonprofit agencies and county and town officials were organizing food and shelter for the migrants, who spent Wednesday night at St. Andrews Church in Edgartown. The Salvation Army, among others, was providing food.”
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition emailed supporters and media outlets Sept. 14 to report the “coordinated welcome of migrants that have been bused to Washington, D.C., from border states since the spring — a vindictive initiative created by Texas Gov. Abbott and Arizona Gov. Ducey to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment and make President Biden feel the pain of his border policies.”
In response, organizations such as Sanctuary DMV and the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network have connected with local synagogues, mosques and churches to assist asylum seekers sent from Texas and Arizona, the coalition said.
In an interview with CNN, DeSantis justified sending the planes to Massachusetts. “We are not a sanctuary state, and it’s better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction, and yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures. Every community in America should be sharing in the burdens. It shouldn’t all fall on a handful of red states.”
The situation escalated Sept. 15 when two buses chartered by Abbot deposited a group of asylum seekers in front of the Washington, D.C., residence of the vice president. It was enough to elicit a condemnation from the humanitarian group Church World Service.
“Governors DeSantis and Abbott are inflicting cruelty and harm on vulnerable people who are seeking safety by using them as political pawns,” said Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy. “Those fleeing their homes have already experienced trauma, desperation and profound loss prior to arriving in the United States. No asylum seeker should be subjected to deceptive or forced transportation or abandoned without support. Our leaders have moral and legal obligations to welcome and protect those who are seeking asylum in the United States.”
The organization added that the actions of these governors fly in the face of values held by people of faith dedicated to helping those most in need.
“The acts … in this case are morally atrocious, especially in light of our sacred Scriptures in Matthew 25 that call on us to see the face of Christ in the migrant and all those fleeing persecution,” said Noel Andersen, director for grassroots organizing for the global organization. “Faith communities who are part of the CWS network across the country are volunteering and stepping up to welcome asylum seekers and we expect our national, state and local leaders to do everything in their power to truly welcome people seeking safety with dignity.”
Lawmakers also blasted the governors’ antics.
“Just like the reverse freedom rides in the 1960s, this endeavor is a cruel ruse that is manipulating families who are seeking a better life,” Massachusetts state Sen. Julian Cyr said in an article published by the Vineyard Gazette. “No one should be capitalizing on the difficult circumstances that these families are in and contorting that for the purposes of a ‘gotcha’ moment.”