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Berkshire immigration advocate: DeSantis flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard “cruel, unacceptable”

Josh Landes

Last week, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis seized headlines when he flew a plane of around 50 migrants with no warning to Martha’s Vineyard in an effort to criticize President Joe Biden’s immigration policies as well as sanctuary communities like Massachusetts. Since then, those migrants have sued DeSantis and other Florida officials for being fraudulently induced to travel across state lines as well as harm suffered during the experience. WAMC spoke with Lorena Dus, Director of Client and Community Services at the Berkshire Immigrant Center of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to hear how the region’s top immigration assistance nonprofit is reacting.

DUS: We think that exploiting people for political reasons is just cruel, and what the governor did is unacceptable and basically promotion of human trafficking. This people were told there would be jobs and housing waiting for them when they arrived, and this was obviously a lie.

WAMC: From a professional standpoint, what does that mean for the kind of work you try to do to welcome people into communities and equip them with the information they need to thrive? That seems somewhat antithetical, to state the obvious.

Yeah, so, you know, we are definitely here in the Berkshires and in Massachusetts, we are welcoming, right? So we are thankful that people quickly joined together to assist the migrants, and we're grateful to these community leaders that have reminded us of our values and are supporting the people who need our help. And we will definitely do the same here in the Berkshires. We are ready to receive them and provide them with legal advice and representation and to refer to other attorneys too that will do the same.

Now, on a personal level in your work with people who are in this very vulnerable position of trying to locate themselves in a new community- Any responses to that, just on the basic, what it might mean to the people caught up in the middle of all of this.

This definitely touches me more, because I am from Venezuela and most of the people that were dropped up here in Massachusetts are coming from Venezuela from a difficult situation. There is a lack of food, medicine, and other basics, and the UN has called it the second largest external displacement crisis in the world. But you know, some could say that this is not responsibility of the United States, but we're all humans. So these people went through a difficult journey, and the challenges that they face are many, and we definitely need to treat them with compassion and respect.

Are there any details about this story that you feel like folks should understand from your vantage point as someone who works in the world of immigration?

Well, some of the things would be that a lot of the people that have entered are at least temporarily legally in the United States waiting for their immigration cases to be processed. So, there is a myth around that all these people just enter with no cases and they were just allowed to be in here, and that's not the truth. And by law, anyone who steps onto the United States soil and claims a fear of persecution in their country must be given a credible fear interview and a chance to see an immigration judge. So a lot of these people are waiting for that.

It seems like the premise of this entire action from Florida was to comment on sanctuary states and sanctuary communities in a negative way. From your vantage point, what is this episode taught us about sanctuary states and sanctuary communities?

That we're definitely very welcome, that we are ready with open arms to to help people, but it also needs to be planned. It just cannot be a thing of, I'm just gonna bring this amount of people here by surprise, you know? But we definitely decided to step up and to help and that is beautiful about this state and also about the community that we are in.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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