After Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew 48 Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, one mom — along with members of her tight-knit community — jumped into action to help those in need.
We're like everybody else. The rich and famous come here in the summer. We are year-round, hard-working people.
Christine WHITE, MARTHA'S VINEYARD RESIDENT
Christine White, a mom of one, has lived in Martha's Vineyard for over 40 years. "There is a misconception about Martha's Vineyard," White tells TODAY Parents. "Yes, there are the rich and famous here — no doubt — but we are a hard-working community of school teachers, doctors and policemen. We're like everybody else. The rich and famous come here in the summer. We are year-round, hard-working people."
White did not realize immediately that two planes of immigrants — who were legally allowed to be in the United States — had been flown to the island from San Antonio, Texas. Her daughter, who lives in New York City, alerted her to the impending humanitarian crisis.
"She called me and said, 'What is going on on the Vineyard? What is going on at St. Andrews?' which is my church," White explained. "I asked her what she was talking about and she told me, so I told her I had to call her back and immediately got in touch with my church."
White said the group of immigrants first visited a community services office, then were sent to the local high school for food and water before finally arriving at the church.
We are a loving community. We help people. We are an island full of love.
"When they were brought to St. Andrew's, the entire island jumped into action," White said. "We are a loving community. We help people. ... It was very emotional, to see these people — to see a little child, a 7-year-old little girl. To see these young men who didn't know where they were."
The nearly 50 immigrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard by Gov. DeSantis after completing a three-month journey on foot from Venezuela to Texas, one immigrant told WBUR, a public radio station located in Boston. The woman, who identified herself as Perla, said they were told in San Antonio, Texas, they'd be provided with "a place to live," money, food and "even English classes" by getting on the plane to Massachusetts. Other immigrants from the group told NPR they were informed they were headed to Boston.
Instead, the immigrants were transported to Martha's Vineyard and without advance notice to local authorities or support groups. In Texas, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said that the immigrants were "lured under false pretenses", and he has opened up a criminal investigation into the Florida governor's actions.
On Fox News Sept. 19, DeSantis told Sean Hannity the trip “was clearly voluntary” and denied any wrongdoing. TODAY Parents reached out to DeSantis and his office for comment, but did not hear back at the time of publication.
White says most of the immigrants needed shoes, jackets and sweatshirts, as well as food and water. Some people needed medical treatment, White added, and a local orthodontist gave dental exams.
"Everybody was there to help," White said. "Everybody fed them. ... People were bringing clothing. Everyone jumped in. It got to the point where (community leaders) said 'please stop' and directed people to a website to learn what to bring and where — it became overwhelming."
How can people do this to one another? How do you take innocent people that want a better life and treat them this way?
White, who works in the special education department at a nearby high school, brought cookies her class makes every week. Students from an AP Spanish class volunteered as translators. A pastor at White's church, St. Andrew's, speaks fluent Spanish and led an all-Spanish worship service.
"Towards the end of the service, I had an opportunity to go in," White said. "The people were all huddled together in the front of the church with their hands up, saying 'God is good' in Spanish."
White started to cry as she recalled the sight of so many people praising God during a time of immense uncertainty.
"It broke my heart," she said, weeping. "These people who were pawns in political games ... it's really heartbreaking. How can people do this to one another? How do you take innocent people that want a better life and treat them this way?"
White says that it was important for her to help the group of immigrants not just because it was the right thing to do, but because she wanted to represent her community and her faith.
"That's what we're here to do — we're disciples of Christ," she explained. "We're here to help people and to love people — and it's hard sometimes — and to forgive."
I said the other night that we were part of a miracle.
The proud mom said the experience reminded her that it's important to "live every day to the fullest."
"I thank God every day and it has affected my faith," White said. "It's made my faith stronger to see a community band together the way we did. This happened for a reason — I said the other night that we were part of a miracle. I made new brothers and sisters in Christ, and to see them in church — that increased my faith.
"I want to do more to help," she added. "I want to do more."