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Beside a Golden Door

The Martha’s Vineyard affair illustrates the divide between those at the top who set policy, and those at the bottom who must live with it.

Venezuelan Migrants
A Venezuelan migrant, waves to volunteers before boarding a bus to the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal outside of St. Andrew's Parish House. (Photo by Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

God bless the poor, impoverished residents of Martha’s Vineyard. For a period of 44 hours, their sidewalks were sullied, their espresso bars disrupted, and their “hate has no home here” signs trodden upon by an invasion of 48 illegal migrants from Venezuela.

Less than two days after their arrival, the self-declared (and certainly self-styled) sanctuary city proclaimed the situation a “humanitarian crisis” and hurriedly loaded the migrants on a bus to send them to the nearest military base. 

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That 48 Venezuelans found themselves in Martha’s Vineyard at all was the work of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose state paid to fly the illegal crossers from Texas to Massachusetts as part of an ongoing effort by Republican governors to share the burden of illegal immigration with their virtue-signaling peers. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been doing the same thing for months, and cities like New York and Washington, D.C., (also self-declared sanctuary cities) say they are now nearing capacity as they beg for additional federal funds.

Many, including the pages of the Wall Street Journal, have decried the move as a political stunt. And it is, of course, part stunt. But it is also an act of desperation from the border states that have been abandoned by the Biden administration and forced to cope with record-setting illegal crossings. While Martha’s Vineyard declared a humanitarian crisis over roughly 50 migrants, border towns like Del Rio, Texas, had 15,000 illegal migrants from Haiti sleeping under a bridge late last year.

In the face of this, the White House absurdly claims “the border is closed” and Vice President Kamala Harris calls it “secure.” Meanwhile, they take no action against sanctuary cities who openly flout federal immigration laws, incentivizing more and more migrants to cross illegally. It is no wonder that governors are seemingly left with no other choice but to take the political and make it personal. If our federal policy is not to enforce immigration laws, then the entire country should have a stake in the outcome.

But l’affaire de Martha’s Vineyard is indicative of another, more fundamental tension in America, one that goes beyond the catastrophic burden of illegal immigration. Rather, the responses it has prompted illustrate that while America remains divided right from left, it is also divided up from down—between those at the top who set policy, and those at the bottom who must live with it. 

Working-class cities like El Paso have been dealing with illegal migrant inflows for years, with shelters at capacity and migrants forced to sleep on the street. Public schools and public health resources are stretched to the breaking point and requests for assistance routinely ignored by Congress. Mayors who complain or voters that protest are dismissed as inhumane racists and hateful bigots insufficiently committed to migrant dignity. Middle- and working-class families struggle to coexist with an illegal-migrant underclass that only continues to grow.

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Yet the residents of Martha’s Vineyard—an island featuring Barack Obama’s seven-bedroom mansion, dozens of luxury hotels, and something called a Carousel House for rent—complain of a “housing crisis” as justification for giving 48 migrants the boot less than two days after they show up. And this ludicrous explanation is accepted by a corporate-media glitterati witlessly nodding along. NBC’s Chuck Todd lamented the “lack of infrastructure” available in the elite summer colony, which annually hosts 150,000 summer tourists, and manages the traveling circus of presidential visits, including the Secret Service and the entire White House press corps.

Talking heads (and the coiffed governor of California) spewed nonsense about DeSantis engaging in human trafficking and “using people as props” without a single nod toward the billion-dollar trade in human bodies, rape, and sexual assault facilitated by our open borders. Politicians and pundits likewise leaned into the condescending, evidence-free narrative that the migrants were so dumb and helpless that they must have been tricked.  

If there was ever a place in the country to highlight the up-down divide in America, it is Martha’s Vineyard. In the wake of their humanitarian crisis, residents fluttered about saying they were “enriched” by their brush with diversity. A CNN headline declared the migrant’s left “an indelible mark” on the Vineyard. But it is hard to see how, since a mere 44 hours after they arrived—that is, the point where it appeared Martha’s Vineyard might have to provide more than platitudes and moral preening—the 48 migrants were packed up and shipped off to a military base tout suite, lest they muss the flower beds. 

There is gamesmanship in politics, sure, but there is also the reality of our policy choices. And when the White House arrogantly refuses to acknowledge what two million illegal crossings do to state resources, community safety, and economic growth, it is a reality that state governors are forced to drive home.

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