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At Martha’s Vineyard, northern paradise interrupted by southern reality

by | Sep 18, 2022 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It was a pretty wild week at Martha’s Vineyard. Just as the wealthy Massachusetts island of sandy shores and picturesque lighthouses was heading sleepily into the offseason, it found itself thrust into the national spotlight, when about 50 migrants — mostly, if not all from Venezuela — landed at its airport, courtesy of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Now, 50 people isn’t a lot. But it sure seemed like it. DeSantis’ stunt, meant to call attention to the flood of illegal immigration at border states, was immediately condemned by Democrats, the Biden administration, and much of the media.

President Joe Biden called it “un-American.” Hillary Clinton called it “human trafficking.” NBC’s Chuck Todd called it “inhumane.” An MSNBC analyst called it “an act of evil by evil men.”

But when time came for the folks at Martha’s Vineyard to rise above all that, they punted. First, they appeared flummoxed by the burden of handling (gasp) 50 new arrivals. Officials complained that they weren’t told in advance. One resident told the TV cameras, “We’re in a housing crisis as we are on this island. We don’t have housing for 50 more people.”

Of course, these are the same things folks in border towns say all the time. Places like Yuma, Arizona, which has had to deal with 250,000 new migrants the last 12 months. That’s a lot more than 50.

Yet Venezuelans at the Vineyard caused chaos. A GoFundMe page was quickly established by locals (a GoFundMe on an island where the median home price is $1.35 million?) It raised more than $40,000, but the money didn’t go to the migrants themselves, and now will be directed “to assist situations like this in the future.”

That’s because, less than 48 hours after their arrival, those 50 migrants were bussed off the island and taken to …

A military base.

As people often say upon leaving Martha’s Vineyard, “That felt like such a short stay.”

The real absurdity

Now, in fairness, the absurdity of our immigration crisis is hardly limited to wealthy people who post signs that boast ”All are welcome here” but seem to freak out when that idea actually arrives at their doorstep.

It’s also absurd, for example, that Vice President Kamala Harris says the border is “secure” when the U.S. has made nearly 2 million arrests there — a record number — in the past year alone.

It’s absurd for President Biden to so vociferously condemn the transport of migrants to a northern city, when his administration has been flying and bussing them to northern cities for months, often on flights that arrive stealthily late at night.

It’s absurd for politicians like former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to tell the media that flying 50 migrants to chic Martha’s Vineyard is “so cruel … and so brazen, it shocks the conscious of any fair-minded human being” when more than 50 migrants actually died in and around a truck in Texas in a single smuggling case last June. That case is directly tied to the broken immigration policy politicians like Crist have allowed to fester. What’s really “cruel and brazen”?

It’s absurd for certain media outlets to obsess over footage from Martha’s Vineyard, yet refuse to show footage from the actual border, where there are daily videos of people running, walking, wading rivers or climbing walls to enter this country.

It’s absurd for White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to blame the current immigration crisis on Republican inaction, as she did last week, when Democrats currently hold the presidency and both houses of Congress.

And it’s disingenuous to say we are just being benevolent to tortured, aggrieved people seeking asylum, when our system is so backed up it can take more than four years for a migrant to even have his or her case heard, plenty of time to abuse the system or even disappear from it.

Four years?

It wasn’t this difficult before

Of course, it’s also head-shaking that DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is using his state’s money to fly people from Texas to Massachusetts to score political points. And it’s wrong for some right-wing media folks to deride these new arrivals as poor, dirty and uneducated when many of their grandparents and great grandparents arrived at these shores in much the same condition.

We are a nation of immigrants. Proudly. Yet we have the most broken immigration system of any major country in the world. Nobody — not Republicans, not Democrats — has had the patience, wisdom, guts or willpower to fix it.

This may be, as Republicans claim, because Democrats privately prefer mass immigration, figuring the new arrivals will dilute red border states with blue votes. It may be, as Democrats often charge, that Republicans privately enjoy the cheap immigrant labor that enriches big U.S. companies.

Whoever is it fault, it’s shameful. A nation’s immigration policy should not be partisan. It is the shaper of our future. How is it that back in the era of ship travel and handwritten files, we seemed to have immigration under control, but in the era of computers, drones and facial recognition, we lose track of hundreds of thousands of migrants every year, and can’t begin to process the millions we know of?

Martha’s Vineyard didn’t ask to be thrust into this mess, but what folks there went through would be an interesting test for the rest of us. How would we deal with a sudden influx of immigrants into our towns? How readily would we move over, make room, share resources?

We like to think we would. But let’s be honest, many of us would resist or resent.

The people who live in the border towns of Arizona, Texas, New Mexico or California don’t have a choice. They deal with this daily, on their property, in their streets, in their sagging community resources. You wonder what those folks were saying when, after 48 hours, they saw Martha’s Vineyard’s ‘’immigration crisis” ended. I doubt we could print it.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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