One month later, Martha's Vineyard reflects on the arrival of 48 migrants

Marthas vinyard migrants
Posted at 12:38 PM, Oct 10, 2022

EDGARTOWN, Mass. — A cutting northwest wind hits the shores of Martha's Vineyard with particular cruelty in the middle of fall. Long gone are the days when this summer seaside safe haven is filled with tourists from across the country, clamoring to spend even a day or two on this quintessential piece of the New England landscape.

But while Mother Nature often runs out of kind weather for the Vineyard, Father Chip Seadale has seen no shortage of kindness filling his inbox in recent weeks.

"Most of them just say 'thank you,' right on the envelope," Father Seadale said while sitting behind his desk, flipping through hundreds of handwritten letters and cards.

Father Seadale has overseen St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts, for the better part of 13 years. It is hardly the type of congregation that garners much attention from the mainland. Until recently, when 48 migrants sent to Martha's Vineyard by way of the Florida governor's office arrived. All of them spent their first two nights on the island inside this church, crammed onto cots brought in by volunteers in a last-minute scramble.

"All I saw was 48 people getting off a plane and needed somewhere to go. That was my only decision; they needed a place to stay," Father Seadale recalled.

As a man of faith, Father Seadale has spent years preaching about good Samaritans. Once that plane touched down, he and his congregation saw opening their doors as a calling from above.

"They needed to be taken care of. These people had been through a lot," he added.

In the hours and days that followed, politics became a major part of the story as it unfolded nationally. Here, though, especially in those early hours, it was never really about that.

"This was a deluge of good-natured people saying, 'This is who we are. This is what we stand for," Father Seadale remarked.

The U.S. southern border is at least a ferry ride and some 1,800 miles from here. But even on this small island, this entire event has started a conversation about immigration.

Lisa Belcastro oversees one of the only homeless organizations on this island. One month after the migrants first came to the Vineyard, she's had some time to reflect.

"I hope we take away from this that we do have an immigration problem. I don't care about the Republican or Democratic side of it. We have an immigration problem," Belcastro said.

About 17,000 people live on Martha's Vineyard year-round. While the island has a reputation for being a getaway for the wealthy, about 40% of the population here are immigrants, many of whom are the backbone of the vital tourism industry. The median household income is around $70,000 but those in hospitality often make far less than that in a season.

"If you want to send immigrants somewhere talk to governors in those states and find out where they can house them and what they can do let's try to solve the problem as a United States," she added.

Most of the 48 migrants left Martha's Vineyard for temporary housing on the mainland. Others, though, have chosen to stay.

Julian Cyr is a state representative who represents Cape Cod. Having navigated a month of rough surf, he's now looking beyond the politics of the situation and hopes any other community that finds themselves in the same situation can use Martha's Vineyard as a guiding light.

"What happened in Martha's Vineyard is what would happen in most any American community, where people would see individuals who need help and pitch in," Cyr said.

Back in Father Seadale's office, he continues to pore through the handful of letters that arrive each day. Thousands of them have come in in the last few weeks. Some bad but most good, thanking this congregation for their initial willingness to help. Many have even come with donations for the 48 migrants to help them find their way.

"We can effect the change this world really deserves," he said.