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Migrants who landed on the Vineyard tricked onto plane

One Venezuelan migrant says he feels ‘deceived’ by stunt

Sarah Betancourt and Eve Zuckoff

Pablo Plaza spent three months walking through South and Central America hoping to end up in Utah, where he wants to find work in his field of welding and engineering to support family back home.

Instead, he ended up on Martha’s Vineyard.

The 28-year-old Venezuelan immigrant was one of almost 50 people flown by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to the island by charter plane on Wednesday, in a pointed political move.

“I feel — deceived. Deceived, and upset. They played with our feelings,” he told GBH News in a Spanish-language interview outside of St. Andrews Church in Edgartown. Plaza was in San Antonio, Texas, earlier this week with other recently arrived migrants when he was approached and offered a ride on the plane. According to numerous reports, the planes flew from Texas to Florida, then on to North Carolina and, finally, Martha’s Vineyard.

“They offered to help me travel, to find lodging, and … they tricked me,” Plaza said. NPR previously reported a woman identified as “Perla” was recruiting immigrants to get on the plane. Nonprofit publication San Antonio Report reported Thursday that a 27-year-old immigrant claims he was paid $200 in cash by “Perla” to convince people standing outside San Antonio’s migrant resource center to board the flight.

So now Plaza is here, relying on the kindness of strangers. He told GBH News outside a shelter in Martha’s Vineyard that all he wants to do is find a place to work. He was a welder and industrial engineering student when he left Venezuela. Plaza said he was transported under false pretenses and was told he’d be going to either Missouri, Washington or Oregon.

“A lot of us are parents of families. We have homes and people who rely on us. And to do that, to play us, if you know what I’m saying, to use us like tokens,” he said. “And none of us are pieces to be used on their chessboard.” Plaza was talking about DeSantis, who reportedly used $615,000 in state funds to pay for the flights. The state legislature approved $12 million to be used to relocate undocumented immigrants out of state.

When asked if his family was with him, Plaza said, “Thank God, no.”

Today, DeSantis said publicly that he will continue to “use every tool at our disposal to insulate the state of Florida from the ramifications of [President Joe Biden’s] reckless border policies.” In a statement Friday, DeSantis’ office wrote they’re targeting individuals on the southern border, including Texas, who might be planning to settle in Florida.

“Law enforcement official at the southern border report that as many as 40% of individuals crossing the border express a desire to reach Florida,” DeSantis’ office claimed.

So instead, DeSantis is paying to shuttle people involuntarily to other areas of the country. It is unclear if or when another plane will land in Massachusetts.

“Florida is not a sanctuary state. We will continue to facilitate a program to assist the transportation of illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities and states across the country,” the Florida governor’s office wrote.

DeSantis also aware immigrants were given the option to move to the Joint Base of Cape Cod for temporary shelter by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday.

“They already bused them out, they’re gone. They said — they said, ‘We want everyone, no one’s illegal,’ but then they’re gone in 48 hours,” DeSantis said of the migrants on Martha’s Vineyard.

The immigrants sent north are still in Massachusetts, and they’re sticking together in their decision to move to the base. Asked if he wants to remain in the Bay State, Plaza seemed on the fence; he knows no one here, other than the volunteers and do-gooders he just met on Cape Cod.

“I’d like to figure out what the situation will be. I’d like Boston … but I would love to get to know the city,” he said. His goals remain the same. “My hope is that I can get to a place where I can work, to begin to produce, be useful, and help my family, as the head of the household and provider.”

Plaza is keeping track of his experience in a notebook. “I’ve been writing everything down because someday I’d like to write a book about this journey,” he said.

“I’m a fighter. I know I can do this. And I’d like to greet the person who sent us here. … Thanks for using us like chess pieces,” he said.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual reporter for GBH News. Eve Zuckoff is a Report for America fellow at the GBH Cape Cod bureau, WCAI.