Rumors this week about a planeload of Venezuelan migrants sent by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to New Jersey proved false, but state agencies and nonprofits say are they ready to help if DeSantis or other Republican governors makes good on plans to send more migrants north.
New Jersey officials here became concerned when an aircraft, used last week by DeSantis to send 48 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, was spotted on its way to New Jersey.
Flight-tracking apps showed the plane scheduled to depart Texas, with a stop in Florida, before ending its journey at Teterboro Airport in Bergen County.
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, the largest state coalition of immigrant advocacy organizations, started gathering attorneys and reaching out to government offices, charities and shelters to prepare.
Although the plane landed in Teterboro with only the flight crew on board, representatives of eight different organizations showed up at the airport ready for care packages. They also had secured attorneys, translators, transportation and hot meals.
“New Jersey is used to doing this because we are a welcoming state. We are a state that believes in bringing people in,” said Amy Torres, the alliance's director.
“It was a great fire drill to understand where needs are, who is able to rapidly mobilize support and how needs will look on the ground. It was a great example of people being ready to turn out and help no matter if they have a lot or few resources to give,” she added.
Torres said organizations across the state have been outlining emergency response plans for a sudden influx of migrants since April, when Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott bussed hundreds of migrants, primarily from Venezuela, to Washington, D.C.
Since April, more than 10,000 migrants have boarded busses or planes on their way to American municipalities that have designated themselves as "sanctuary cities" — communities that adopted a policy of protecting immigrants against local enforcement of certain federal immigration laws.
Texas, Arizona and Florida's Republican governors have sent migrants north as part of a political attack on President Joe Biden and his administration's immigration policies amid a surge in the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Nineteen New Jersey municipalities have adopted legislation deeming themselves sanctuary cities including Princeton, Union, Jersey City, Newark, Hoboken, Trenton, Camden and Asbury Park.
Asbury Park Mayor John Moor said if the city receives a sudden influx of migrants, his office will have to supplement its efforts with assistance from county, state and federal agencies. “Asbury Park continually receives relocated individuals from municipalities throughout the state as well as other locations throughout the U. S.," said Moor, a registered Democrat. "Our social services and police department work with our partners in the city to provide these individuals with the basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter.”
About 20 miles south of Asbury Park in Toms River, Mayor Mo Hill told the Asbury Park Press that he wouldn’t expect a flight of migrants to his community because it is not a sanctuary city.
“In the unlikely event that a charter flight arrives in Lakewood (airport) with illegal immigrants destined for Toms River, I would meet the plane on the tarmac, give every passenger a box of donuts from OB CO’s and a sweatshirt from the 'Let’s Go Brandon' store," said Hill, a Republican. The "Let's Go Brandon" is a slogan adopted by the right to insult Biden, a Democrat. "I would then give their bus driver directions to the White House with my compliments to the president."
Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles, also a registered Democrat, said that he preferred not to talk about hypothetical scenarios, but that his township “would treat anybody who comes to town as humanely as possible.”
The nonprofit group One Ocean County said it would mobilize donations as they have done in the past. The Lakewood-based group states that its purpose is to "foster communication by creating spaces and opportunities for individuals of different backgrounds to come together," according to its website.
“We were one of the first organizations to mobilize donations of food, clothing, toiletries and toys for the Afghan refugees when they came to the area two summers ago, so I would hope we could replicate that gracious response if needed by collaborating with local Lakewood organizations to gather whatever is needed,” said Tova Herskovitz, One Ocean County director.
Alejandra Morales, head of Ocean County Latino support group Voz Latina, said her organization would also help gather donations if any migrants arrive.
“The great necessity that we have right now is people lacking housing. So, unless we have someone who is going to donate locations to put people in, we have a problem," said Dolly Hernandez, director of Casa Freehold, an advocacy and immigrant support organization. "You know, we can’t just leave them on the streets.”
“Housing is a problem in New Jersey, regardless of your immigration status, regardless of whether you’ve been here for a day, 10 years or 10 generations,” Torres said.
Torres suggested that shelters could temporarily lift their eligibility criteria to be able to house migrants. For instance, women-only shelters could temporarily accept males.
According to the state Department of Human Services, state and local partners have different resources to assist individuals and families needing emergency shelter. "Our goal is to connect individuals to emergency housing and address any immediate needs while we work with our local partners for ongoing support," said Eva Loayza-McBride, DHS spokesperson.
Statewide organizations expect Trenton to step in
“We are gathering a list of resources throughout New Jersey. We would be giving food and finding other organizations that can provide other resources such as housing. But if they (migrants) come into New Jersey, there has to be a response from Gov. Murphy,” said Ana Paola Pasmiño, director of support group Unidad Latina en Acción.
In a statement, Murphy's office said that “every migrant deserves to be treated with dignity and respect” and that New Jersey is “prepared to support local emergency management operations as needed.” Murphy is a Democrat.
But immigrant support organizations say Trenton needs to offer more than short-term emergency solutions.
“Often, immigrants' justice issues are not a priority in Trenton, which often offers short-term solutions. Short-term support is certainly there, but we need lawmakers to enact legislation for long-term solutions. The state has more to do to make sure that people are protected and get the resources that they need,” Torres said.
Record surge in Venezuelans crossing the border
In less than a year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have counted more than 100,000 Venezuelans crossing the border. Under federal law, they cannot be expelled because Mexico will not host them and Venezuela’s government doesn’t have agreements with the U.S. to accept deportations.
Venezuela, once the largest economic power in Latin America, finds itself in an acute economic crisis.
According to a recent report from the United Nations, Venezuela has lost 99% of government revenue after U.S. sanctions were imposed and its assets frozen starting in 2014.
Last year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Jesús García, D-Illinois, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Wisconsin, sent a letter to Biden expressing their concerns about how economic sanctions were triggering a humanitarian crisis in countries like Venezuela and Iran.
"Far too often and for far too long, sanctions have been imposed as a knee-jerk reaction without a measured and considered assessment of their impacts," read the letter.
Juan Carlos Castillo is a reporter covering everything Lakewood. He delves into politics, social issues and human-interest stories. Reach out to him at JcCastillo@gannett.com
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Migrant resettlement flights: New Jersey ready to help