Pablo Plaza has spent three months walking through South and Central America in hopes of ending up in Utah, where he wants to find work in his field of welding and engineering for provide for the needs of his family back home.
Instead, he ended up on Martha’s Vineyard.
The 28-year-old Venezuelan immigrant was one of nearly 50 people flown by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to the island by charter plane on Wednesday, in a sharp political move.
“I feel – cheated. Deceived, and upset. They played with our feelings,” he told GBH News in an interview in Spanish outside 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 to board the plane. According to numerous reports, the planes flew from Texas to Florida, then to North Carolina and, finally, to Martha’s Vineyard.
“They offered to help me travel, find accommodation, and…they cheated on me,” Plaza said. NPR previously reported that a woman identified as “Perla” was recruiting immigrants to board the plane. The 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 the San Antonio migrants 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 wanted was to find a place to work. He was a welder and industrial engineering student when he left Venezuela. Plaza said he was flown under false pretenses and told he would be going to 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 with us, if you know what I mean, to use us as tokens,” he said. “And none of us are a piece to use on his chessboard. Plaza was talking about DeSantis, who allegedly used $615,000 in public funds to pay for the flights. The state legislature has approved $12 million to be used to move undocumented immigrants out of state.
When asked if his family was with him, Plaza replied, “Thank God, no.”
Today, DeSantis publicly stated 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 that it was targeting people on the southern border, including in Texas, who might be considering relocating to Florida.
“A Southern Border Law Enforcement official reports that up to 40% of people crossing the border express a desire to reach Florida,” DeSantis’ office said.
Instead, DeSantis is paying to unwittingly transport people to other parts 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 in the transportation of illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities and states across the country,” the Florida Governor’s office wrote.
On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker gave DeSantis the option of moving to Joint Base Cape Cod for temporary shelter.
“They already took them out on the bus, they left. They said — they said, ‘We want everybody, nobody’s illegal,’ but they’re gone in 48 hours,” DeSantis said of the Martha’s Vineyard migrants.
The immigrants sent north are still in Massachusetts, and they remain united in their decision to move to the base. When asked if he wanted to stay in the Bay State, Plaza seemed on the fence; he knows no one here except the volunteers and benefactors he has just met on Cape Cod.
“I would like to understand what the situation will be. I would love Boston…but I would love to know the city,” he said. Its objectives remain the same. “My hope is that I can get to a place where I can work, start producing, be useful and help my family, as a breadwinner and provider.”
Plaza keeps track of her experience in a notebook. “I wrote it all because one day I would like to write a book about this trip,” he said.
“I’m a fighter. I know I can do it. And I would like to salute the person who sent us here. … Thanks for using us like chess pieces,” he said.
Produced with the assistance of 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 office, WCAI.