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Immigration is at the forefront in Massachusetts after migrants arrived

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis drew attention to himself when his state lured legal migrants into taking a flight to Martha's Vineyard. The flight is now the subject of a criminal investigation. A Texas sheriff asserts the migrants were in the U.S. legally, and the only thing that may be illegal was the action of the Florida government. The act did trigger debate in Massachusetts, and Anthony Brooks of WBUR has been listening.

ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: As soon as the news broke that some 50 Venezuelans had landed in Martha's Vineyard, Jay McMahon issued a press release. McMahon is a conservative Republican running for Massachusetts attorney general. He called his opponent and other Democrats radical progressives who've been welcoming illegal immigrants to the state for years. McMahon says while his heart goes out to the migrants, they should be handled by law enforcement and not welcomed as new residents.

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JAY MCMAHON: It's not a community-based issue where we just welcome anybody that's poor and say we're going to take care of them, give them health care and all that stuff.

BROOKS: McMahon says he's sympathetic to Southern governors like DeSantis of Florida, who claim to be overwhelmed by waves of immigrants.

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MCMAHON: I just don't like that all of a sudden now we're getting them here in Massachusetts.

BROOKS: But his Democratic opponent in the race for AG, Andrea Campbell, blasted DeSantis for a cruel political stunt that targeted families, women and children. But she said the citizens of Martha's Vineyard, public officials and advocates all scrambled to welcome the Venezuelans, offering them food, housing and compassion.

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ANDREA CAMPBELL: Because that's what we're about here in Massachusetts. And frankly, that's what Democrats are about, not political stunts.

BROOKS: Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, who heads Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, stresses that the migrants are not illegal immigrants. He's representing many of them and says they surrendered to immigration officials at the border and are now in the country legally as they await their hearings. On Tuesday, Espinoza-Madrigal filed a federal class action suit against DeSantis, accusing him of luring the migrants to Massachusetts with false promises of housing, jobs and legal assistance.

IVAN ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: This is a fraud, and this has a host of criminal and civil implications. Lawyers for Civil Rights will be targeting the governor of Florida and other accountable parties.

BROOKS: Meanwhile, some Massachusetts lawmakers are calling for a federal investigation - among them, state Representative Dylan Fernandes, who slams DeSantis for trying to be tough on immigration.

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DYLAN FERNANDES: There is nothing tough about using women and children as political pawns. Ron DeSantis is a coward.

BROOKS: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat who's running for governor, is evaluating whether to pursue legal action against DeSantis. Her Republican opponent, Geoff Diehl, is attacking her. Yesterday, Diehl told conservative radio host John Fredricks that Healey supports liberal policies that make Massachusetts a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

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GEOFF DIEHL: So that's a public safety issue that we've been dealing with in Massachusetts for quite a while.

BROOKS: David Paleologos is a pollster with Suffolk University who's about to release a poll on the Florida governor's race. He says the scheme to fly the migrants to Martha's Vineyard is a way to stoke fears about a broken immigration system and energize conservatives.

DAVID PALEOLOGOS: DeSantis will benefit in Florida among core Republican voters with this action, and that might be all by design.

BROOKS: Shipping migrants to Massachusetts could also help DeSantis win over many Republicans across the country as he eyes a potential presidential run, even if critics in Massachusetts call the move cruel and cynical.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Brooks has more than twenty five years of experience in public radio, working as a producer, editor, reporter, and most recently, as a fill-in host for NPR. For years, Brooks has worked as a Boston-based reporter for NPR, covering regional issues across New England, including politics, criminal justice, and urban affairs. He has also covered higher education for NPR, and during the 2000 presidential election he was one of NPR's lead political reporters, covering the campaign from the early primaries through the Supreme Court's Bush V. Gore ruling. His reports have been heard for many years on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.