At a sprawling estate on Martha’s Vineyard not far from the seashore, Deici Cauro adjusted a baseball cap to keep the scorching sun at bay. She was crouching weeding with her bare hands when a familiar voice called to her from across the yard.
« Pots! » her employer called and she nodded to Signora Cauro to follow her to another nearby garden.
“¿Vamos?” Ms. Cauro replied in Spanish, wondering if they had decided to move.
“Yeah, vamos, I guess, whatever that means,” her boss replied, prompting both women to share a hearty laugh.
When Ms. Cauro fled Venezuela last summer, she never imagined that one day she’d be working and living on a wealthy island south of Cape Cod, surrounded by boats and mansions of the kind she’d only seen in movies.
It has been nine months since the Florida government, under the direction of Governor Ron DeSantis, chartered two flights from Texas that picked up Ms. Cauro and 48 other newly arrived migrants and dropped them off on Martha’s Vineyard, an enclave liberal who until then had little direct experience with increased migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The political move – repeated this month when Florida officials staged two more flights of migrants from Texas, this time to California – was an attempt to force Democratic leaders many miles away to deal with a wave of migration. which affected states along the border. The trips have left many Venezuelans confused and alarmed. Some were told they were headed to Boston or Seattle, where there would be plenty of jobs, care and housing.
But not even the destination; it was Martha’s Vineyard, and it was the end of the busy summer season when vacationers began retreating back home to offices and schools. There were no jobs and no places to stay. Volunteers set up the new arrivals at a local church and arranged transportation.
Within days, most of the migrants were gone, heading to other parts of Massachusetts and places like New York, Washington and Michigan, cities better equipped than a small island to accommodate people who had arrived with little or none of them.
As it turned out, though, not everyone is gone.
Ms Cauro is one of at least four migrants who remained quietly on the island, forging ties with a community that opened all the doors it could. Ms. Cauro, 25, works as a landscaper. Her brother, Daniel, 29, and her cousin, Eliud Aguilar, 28, have found work in painting and roofing.
First they stayed in the homes of Martha’s Vineyard residents who invited them in, and then they started earning enough money for a two-bedroom house, with the four of them each earning $1,000 a month. They have bikes to ride around the city.
“I didn’t even know where Martha’s Vineyard was. And now I feel welcomed by everyone here. I’m working, making friends and this is home for me now,” Mrs. Cauro said with a broad smile. “This is home now. I don’t want to leave. »
The organized flights from Florida came as the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona were pulling thousands of migrants away from the border, straining support systems in cities like New York, Washington and Chicago.
Many of the 49 migrants who were brought to Martha’s Vineyard are still struggling. Some have not yet obtained work permits and many are still living in shelters, unable to afford permanent housing.
One of them, a 42-year-old man named Wilson, who fled Venezuela after an armed group defected there, lives in a shelter in a Boston suburb. He had hoped to open a restaurant or remodeling business, but for now he’s doing odd jobs and « doing everything he can, » he said.
“We were 49 migrants and we have 49 different stories,” he said. « I want to achieve the American dream like everyone else. »
The four migrants who managed to stay on the island also experienced difficulties. Ms Cauro said she still found it hard to trust strangers after the deeply unsettling feeling of being cast adrift by people she now thinks used her and her relatives as political pawns.
She said it was important for her to pay out of her own pocket and not become a burden on the community that took her in. Her employer, a woman in her 60s who declined to be named because she was hiring someone without a work permit, said Ms Cauro felt like part of her family.
Signora Cauro understood enough to nod. “We came here to do any job, no matter how hard. We are just happy to live here. »
Life on « La Isla, » as migrants call it, looks a lot like the new life they had imagined. But getting there was a tremendous challenge. Ms. Cauro and her family, faced with an oppressive government and economic collapse in Venezuela, had left for the United States a month before reaching the border.
His brother, Daniel, had left behind a wife and two children, Daniela, 8, and Reynaldo, 2. They traversed the Darien Gap, a treacherous swath of jungle that connects South and Central America. In Mexico, the group hopped on La Bestia, a network of northbound freight trains where many migrants lost limbs and even their lives.
When they got to the Texas border, Aguilar recalled seeing people in his group lose their footing and get swept away by the strong current of the Rio Grande. “It was so hard to watch them sink to the bottom of the river,” Aguilar said.
The group finally crossed into the United States near Eagle Pass, Texas and found refuge in a shelter in San Antonio. But after the five night time limit, they found themselves stranded outside, tired and hungry. “We were desperate,” Cauro said.
After several days, in early September, they met a woman named Perla, who handed them McDonald’s gift cards and offered them free hotel and flights to « Washington or Oregon, » where the woman said they would found work and accommodation, the migrants recalled.
But 15 minutes before their plane landed, they said, something was wrong. Mr. Cauro and his group received red folders with a cover proclaiming, « Massachusetts welcomes you. »
Ms. Cauro and her brother said they were shocked and felt « like cattle » when they were dropped near a high school field in Edgartown, one of the six towns that make up Martha’s Vineyard, and told to knock. at the gates. « Some people were passing out, having panic attacks, » Cauro recalled.
Father Chip Seadale of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church was out of town when the flights landed, but quickly called the phone when he learned what had happened. “If they don’t have a place to stay, let’s put them in church,” he told his colleagues.
Firefighters and Salvation Army volunteers set up cribs in the church, and local residents poured in with clothing, food and cash. Father Seadale said a woman cycled to church and handed in a check for $10,000.
There was generosity from all over the country, he said, pointing to a church wall covered in letters from supporters. An envelope addressed to the « Church where the immigrants have been taken » managed to arrive at the right address. An attached letter said: « Thank you for treating migrants like people. »
“The community has come together,” Father Seadale said. Whatever Mr. DeSantis’ intention was, he said, “it raised a level of awareness and consciousness. To this day, every time I go and say I’m from Martha’s Vineyard, people congratulate me on how we handled it. »
Not everyone welcomed the newcomers with open arms.
A longtime resident, Angela Cywinski, said the situation has put the community in a difficult position, trying to accommodate people who could not legally be employed in restaurants or hotels. Most of the migrant workers on the island, she said, have invested the time and money necessary to obtain legal status. Ms Cywinski said she knows Brazilian migrants who have spent up to $60,000 and waited years to get visas to legally live on the island. « It’s not fair when people skip the line, » she said.
Ms Cauro and others had to find work under the table until their work permits were approved, which usually takes several months as part of the asylum process.
Rachel Self, an immigration lawyer who has worked with migrants, said Venezuelans are working hard and paying for themselves.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Ms. Self arrived at the house where the Venezuelans lived, on a quiet street. They played salsa and cooked caldo de res, a red meat soup common in Venezuela. They had a good time laughing at dinner and planned to visit the home of the « abogada » – the lawyer, as they came to know her – and also the nearby beach made famous by the movie « Jaws ».
Martha’s Vineyard isn’t the place they envisioned for themselves, they said, but it has become where they hope to put down roots. Mr. Cauro said he would like to bring his wife and two children from Venezuela once his legal status is secured.
When his family FaceTimes him, he tells them to be patient. He hasn’t seen them in a year, but he promises it won’t be long.
Her 2-year-old son, Reynaldo, who wears a straw hat he rarely takes off, always asks when he’s coming home.
« I’m already at home, » replies Mr. Cauro. One day, he reminds his son, he too will be at home with him.