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Delaware officials and activists readied to meet a plane carrying migrants. It never arrived.

The flight was thought to be directed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who recently sent about 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard

Philly Inquirer - Jeff Gammage, Marina Affo, & Ximena Conde

GEORGETOWN, Del. — In the end it was the saga of a plane that never arrived, a supposed Republican effort to poke President Joe Biden by sending a group of undocumented immigrants to the doorstep of his vacation home.

The plane landed in Tennessee instead.

In the meantime, the flight set off a full response by state government authorities, drew pained comment from the White House, and brought immigration advocates rushing to help from around Delaware and even from Baltimore. News organizations including The Inquirer, the New York Times, and National Public Radio sent reporters to the airfield, all eventually to discover that nothing was happening.

“It is very hard to see how our community continues to be manipulated,” said Rossana Arteaga-Lopenza, who had been at the Delaware Coastal Airport most of the day, as a volunteer for Casa de Venezuela Delaware.

Before that ending became evident, text messages flew among local attorneys and activists, alerting people about plans to open a shelter here in Georgetown. Calls went out for nurses, nurse technicians, and other volunteers to help. People requested volunteer attorneys to assist migrants who are pursuing asylum, a process that is invariably long, expensive and uncertain — and completely legal.

Delaware state authorities sprang, from the governor’s office on down, ready to assist a plane that was believed to be carrying migrants who would need care, food, and housing on arrival.

The flight was thought to be directed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who recently sent about 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, with a stop in Florida.

The Tuesday drama began with a Twitter report that showed one of the planes that DeSantis used to send people to Martha’s Vineyard was scheduled to travel to Delaware, coming from Florida after originating in Texas.

At midday, Delaware Gov. John Carney’s spokesperson said the office was preparing for the unannounced arrival of migrants. The governor was working with Delaware Health and Social Services, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, community organizations, and others to provide support.

“We are coordinating with federal officials and are prepared to welcome these families in an orderly manner as they pursue their asylum claims,” said spokesperson Emily David Hershman.

Asked at the White House about reports that DeSantis could be sending a flight, Biden told reporters: “He should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.”

Diane Batchik, a board member of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, a major resettlement organization in Baltimore, drove to Delaware Coastal Airport to be ready to help.

Pastor René Knight-Peguero of Sussex County headed to the airport shortly after noon, joining other advocates who can speak Spanish.

“It was a surprise, but I know that churches are ready,” he said.

Arteaga-Lopenza, of Casa de Venezuela Delaware, said her organization was ready to connect immigrants with housing, as it has done for others who arrived in recent years.

“We have provided food, we have provided shelter, we have provided clothing and information about how to find a job, how to enroll your kids in school,” said Arteaga-Lopenza.

It turned out the preparation was unnecessary.

Republican governors have escalated the tactic of sending migrants to Democratic areas with no advance warning, including to the home of Vice President Kamala Harris, an effort to taunt and rile the leaders of immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” cities.

Those cities, including Philadelphia, do not officially cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. City officials maintain that immigration arrests and detentions are the responsibility of the federal government.

The Biden administration on Tuesday was “coordinating closely with state officials and local service providers who are prepared to welcome these families,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing.

She did not say how the White House learned of the flight, only that “our heads-up did not come from Gov. DeSantis,” accusing him of attempting “to create chaos.”

The governors of Texas and Arizona in recent months have bused hundreds of migrants to

New York, Chicago, and Washington, where immigrant-allies have rushed to help. In Martha’s Vineyard, migrants were welcomed with meals, shelter, and health care.

Delaware was ready to do the same.

In the past couple of years, the state has seen a large influx of Haitian migrants, a population that now numbers as many as 5,000 people, according to Delaware immigration attorney Rick Hogan, of the Philadelphia and Wilmington firm of Hogan & Vandenberg.

Many have found work at the poultry-processing plants, helping make the United States the top global destination for Haitian immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

”Immigration is such a huge crisis in our country,” Arteaga-Lopenza said. “We do need to talk about it, but to bring the attention this way, it’s unfair for our people, for our brothers and sisters.”

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