The two men’s lives intersected in an unlikely chapter earlier this week amid the heated debate on immigration in the United States. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has chartered two planes to bring a group of immigrants from Texas to this tiny Massachusetts island, a summer retreat for the liberal elite.
The key, he and other Republican officials said, is to draw attention to rising immigration numbers and to share the burden of caring for them in Democratic-led states. Democrats denounced the flight as a stunt using humans as political pawns.
But for Aguero and Lima, the political battle is nowhere in sight. He never thought he’d be in a place like Martha’s Vineyard. Lima never thought such a desperate journey would lead to her island, but when they did, she jumped in to help.
Later, some immigrants told her that it was un golpe de buena suerte – a lucky shot – they landed there.
DeSantis’ scrutiny of state funding for immigration flights grows
On Friday morning, Lima helped nearly 50 migrants board a bus that took them from the bus where they had spent two nights at the church to a ferry to the mainland. From there, they will be transported to a military base on Cape Cod.
They now have full bags and new phones. Many wore purple long-sleeved shirts from Martha’s Vineyard High School. Many cried as the migrants said goodbye to the local volunteers who provided them with food and shelter. Watching them leave, Lima also cried.
“You just want them to land where they’re supposed to be,” she said. “And they’ll meet good people along the way.”
Aguero made a peace gesture with his fingers as he got into the car. “Thank you, everyone,” he said in Spanish. “Without these people, I don’t know where we would be.”
He woke up before 7am that morning, his second full night after weeks of sleep deprivation. After the initial shock of not landing in Boston, Washington, D.C. or New York, as most immigrants would expect, Aguero began to relax. The island is beautiful, he is safe, and so is his wife Maria. After two dangerous months, he could breathe.
Aguero spent his life in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. The economic crisis and political turmoil sweeping the country pushed nearly everyone into poverty, including his family. Millions fled. Aguero also began to look for a way out.
There is one, but it’s dangerous. Aguero and his wife left Venezuela in July, hoping to reach the United States. For weeks, they had nowhere to sleep. At one point, they were sent back to Colombia from Chile. From there, they traveled across Central America. In the end, they took a Mexican train that was notoriously dangerous and reached the Rio Grande.
He and Maria can swim and believe they will get through it. They tied themselves to the rest of the team, entered the murky waters, and landed safely. They are now in the US but have no money, clothes or phones.
Aguero and his wife were eventually taken by immigration agents to San Antonio, where they were reunited with Aguero’s 23-year-old brother Rafael, who had begun his journey north a few weeks earlier. The couple spent 72 hours at an immigrant aid center before being driven out onto the street, where they joined Raphael, who scraped together the money for food by doing whatever odd jobs he could find.
On the streets of San Antonio, a blonde woman approached the trio and introduced herself as “Pella.” She asked if they needed help. She offers them a hotel room while she plans to take them elsewhere. A few days later, Aguero, Maria and Rafael boarded a plane to an unknown destination.
He didn’t know where they were going until the pilot announced over the megaphone that they would soon be at Martha’s Vineyard.
When Aguero’s plane landed, Lima spent an afternoon at her computer, filled with email communications, followed by a Zoom meeting. After the meeting, she stormed out the door and dined with a group of friends at 19 Raw, an oyster bar in nearby Edgartown.
Lima was born in New York to Bolivian immigrant parents. Growing up, her family sometimes vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard. Lima’s sister, a chef, later settled there like Lima, joining a year-round community of about 20,000 residents. She started volunteering at a local homeless shelter seven years ago.
After dinner, Lima finally checked her phone. She saw text messages asking if she could provide translation services for a group of migrants arriving in St Petersburg. Andrew’s Anglican Church, just around the corner from the restaurant.
She won outright. Volunteer activities are in full swing. The first man she talks to starts telling her his story. He traveled most of the way in Central America. He traveled across Mexico on a freight train notorious for its danger and violence – known as La Bestia. He faced starvation and corrupt officials and gangs.
Lima said the first night was to reassure those who didn’t know where they were. She tried to let them know they were well looked after, but they were free to leave if they wanted.
She was back at 6:30 the next morning. It didn’t matter that she had to work – she wanted to show immigrants that they were welcome. For the next 15 hours, she was there to help manage a group of volunteers, donors and journalists. She started making an Excel spreadsheet of items people would like to donate: blankets, spare room, books, diapers, legal help, therapy.
In the evening, she pulled over an empty gray folding chair next to her and invited the migrant workers to talk about their experiences. She heard about people being robbed and cheated on and watched their friends struggle to survive. Many start a journey with more people. Some were kidnapped, drowned or died of dehydration.
Lima has been spinning since the moment she heard about the arrival of immigrants. “Then you hear these stories sometimes,” she said. Those are “the moments when your heart stops.”
Start your Friday morning with breakfast served at a nearby golf course. Meanwhile, the governor of Massachusetts. Charlie Baker (right) has arranged for a voluntary transport to Joint Base Cape Cod, a military base designated as an emergency shelter. The state said it would provide immigrants with food and access to health care and legal help.
Lima spoke only briefly with Aguero and his family. She noticed his name on Friday as he approached the bus and hugged him. She spends the rest of the morning cleaning the church — taking apart the beds, emptying the refrigerator, picking up bottled water. By early afternoon, she got home and opened her laptop.
Aguero gets on the bus. He was clutching a new phone from a local social services agency. Less than half an hour later, the bus arrived at the port of Vineyard Haven. The sky is azure blue and the water is dotted with sailboats. “It’s beautiful,” Aguero said, pointing to the harbor.
On the ferry to the mainland, Aguero and his brother were elated as they filmed a video of the boat darting across the water. The two brothers stood side by side, looking out at the sea.
The waters now appear to be friendlier than when Aguero landed at the airport two days ago. He still didn’t know where they were going. Some of his fellow migrants learned from volunteers that they would stay on the military base. They don’t know what that means, how long they’ll be there, or how safe they’ll be. Military officials are not always friendly on long trips to the United States.
He said Aguero was not worried about what would happen next because he was in the United States. Even with all the chaos of the past few days, everything will be fine.
Rosenzweig-Ziff reported from Edgartown, Massachusetts. Slater reported from Williamstown, Massachusetts.