As the Republican governors of Texas, Florida and Arizona continued to wield a political tactic of transporting migrants outside their states, Delaware officials and immigration advocates prepared Tuesday to offer help after reports suggested a private plane bringing a group of migrants could land at an airport near President Biden’s summer home.
Flight tracking websites appeared to show that a plane chartered by the same company used by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to transport migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., last week was set to take off from San Antonio on Tuesday morning with a brief stop in Crestview, Fla., before landing at Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown around 1:30 pm.
But by early Tuesday evening, the plane hadn’t arrived in the town of nearly 7,500. Flight trackers showed the plane instead went from Nashville to Teterboro, N.J.
The office of Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, said Tuesday that it was coordinating with federal officials to prepare for a possible arrival. And Jill Fredel, director of communications for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the agency had not been in touch with the offices of DeSantis or Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who has also sent migrants to other states. She said Delaware officials were working with state agencies and community groups to offer migrants food, shelter, transportation and healthcare services and had readied a centralized donation website to go live.
“It’s a humanitarian effort on our part,” she said. “We want to support people who might arrive in our state.”
Councilwoman Christina Diaz-Malone said that Georgetown was ready for the possible arrival of migrants and that she saw an outpouring of support with an experienced network mobilizing to help. She noted that Georgetown previously welcomed Guatemalans who arrived to work in poultry farms in the 1990s.
“This is not Georgetown’s first rodeo,” she said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters earlier Tuesday that the Biden administration had “received word of the flights” and was “coordinating closely with state officials and local service providers who are prepared to welcome these families in an orderly manner as they pursue their asylum claims.”
Asked about the situation, Biden remarked that DeSantis should visit Delaware himself.
“We have a beautiful shoreline,” the president told reporters.
While Delaware officials continued preparations for a possible arrival, some migrants who boarded the flights to Martha’s Vineyard last week and the advocacy group Alianza Americas sued DeSantis on Tuesday in Massachusetts federal court. The class-action complaint alleges that migrants were fraudulently targeted and induced “to board a plane and cross state lines through misrepresentations and false promises.” On Monday, Sheriff Javier Salazar of Bexar County, Texas, said that he was launching a criminal investigation into the flights that took 48 migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week.
In addition to DeSantis, Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey have sent thousands of migrants on buses to other Democratic strongholds — Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago — in recent months. Those who arrived on Martha’s Vineyard were predominantly from Venezuela.
Rossana Arteaga-Lopenza, a volunteer with Casa de Venezuela Delaware, said she arrived Tuesday morning feeling sad but ready to welcome any arriving migrants and to serve as an interpreter. Arteaga-Lopenza described herself as a stay-at-home mom who cares about the community, the state and fellow Venezuelans who are suffering amid the humanitarian crisis that has driven more than 6 million from the South American country.
Migrants have been stopped along the border more than 2 million times this fiscal year, an all-time high driven in part by an increase in Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian governments and economic hardship, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That number doesn’t represent individual migrants because many try to cross the border — and are apprehended — multiple times.
Casa de Venezuela can’t offer financial aid, Arteaga-Lopenza said, but does provide arriving Venezuelans emotional support and access to food, shelter and information such as how to enroll their children in school and where to look for jobs.
Before the flight was scheduled to arrive, Arteaga-Lopenza hoped to welcome migrants with a hug and a smile, but said that she believes their vulnerable situation has been exploited.
“I hope they don’t come — not because they aren’t welcome,” she said. “We shouldn’t use them as a political stunt.”
News outlets have reported that Florida repurposed federal COVID-19 aid to pay for flights. On Tuesday, DeSantis declined to confirm whether he spent public dollars to fly migrants to Delaware but defended relocating migrants to so-called sanctuary destinations such as Martha’s Vineyard, saying that “it’s already made more of an impact than anyone thought it could possibly make.”
“What we’re doing is not the ultimate solution,” he said. “I think it’s opening people’s eyes to the solution, which is, let’s have a secure border, let’s have them remain in Mexico.”