National press corps converges on Georgetown airport

Expectation of migrant plane brings out mass of media, social workers and onlookers
September 23, 2022

A press corps on a scale never before seen in Sussex County, let alone at Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown, descended Sept. 20 in anticipation of a flight that never arrived.

The airport that typically accommodates 40 flights a day was wall-to-wall reporters and photographers plus a few dozen onlookers, all crammed into the small terminal. Some of the biggest names in the business were there – The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and all the major television news networks.

“I think this is probably the biggest gaggle of media that I’ve ever had to contend with,” said Chip Guy, communications director for Sussex County. “[Sept. 20] probably took the cake in terms of the most frenetic media scene that I’ve been witness to in 17 years.”

Guy said when he arrived at the airport at 8:35 a.m., one local television station already had a presence there, but when a CNN vehicle from Washington, D.C., pulled in a few minutes later, he knew it was going to be big. “By Tuesday morning, it was ramped up in the rumor mill, both in local media and on the web,” he said. “I don’t usually start my day at the airport, but I did that day, and ended my day at 2 a.m. at the airport. I was the last to leave and turn off the lights.”

The last media outlet crew left about midnight. On Wednesday morning, Guy said, some outlets returned, but not nearly the number that showed up Sept. 20.

Media, chasing the national story of migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard on a plane chartered by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, had cued into the tail numbers of that specific plane. When the same plane was scheduled to take off from Texas and land at Coastal Airport in Georgetown, everyone expected a plane full of migrants to disembark. But it never did. Instead, it went to Nashville, Tenn., and then on to an airport in New Jersey.

Earlier in the day, a spokesperson for Gov. John Carney said they were aware of the possibility of a flight landing, and they sent officials from the Department of Health and Social Services and the Delaware Emergency Management Agency to the airport.

Later in the day, DHSS spokeswoman Jill Fredel said the goal was to meet the immediate needs of migrants including shelter, food, medical care and transportation, and provide connections to social services, if needed. “We are making preparations and are working with our partners,” she said.

La Esperanza in Georgetown declined to comment, referring all calls to DHSS, and a call to La Red was not returned.

The Rev. Mark Harris, an associate with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lewes, said he showed up at the airport around noon to offer support after hearing about the possibility of a flight coming in.

“It really was an effort of joining together people from across the community,” he said. “The takeaway from the day was that there is a community of people willing to welcome and engage immigrants as they show up, and help to provide some sort of transition for them. I felt that was a really healthy sign.”

At Arena’s cafe inside the airport terminal, business was humming with all seats taken at the bar, booths and tables.

“For a Tuesday, we did probably four times the amount of business we usually do,” said Jarrett Groton, a bartender who also works as acting manager. 

The restaurant opened at 11 a.m. and by noon, Groton said, he knew it was going to be big. More than a dozen video cameras lined up in front of the plate-glass windows in anticipation of getting the perfect shot. “By noon, everyone was showing up,” he said.

Groton said Arena’s sold a lot of Reuben sandwiches that day, along with plenty of appetizers.

“I made out pretty well at the end of the day. I was pretty satisfied,” he said.

President Joe Biden briefly commented on the migrant situation on his way out of a Sept. 20 news conference, saying fewer migrants are coming from Mexico and Central America.

“This is a totally different circumstance,” he said. “What’s on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.”

Pressed on what he thought about the expectation that DeSantis was flying migrants to his home state of Delaware, Biden said, “He should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.”

For nearly a decade, the number of Venezuelans leaving their homeland has increased exponentially as they seek safety and flee economic hardship imposed by authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro, who took office after former President Hugo Chavez’s death.

According to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, the number of Venezuelans living abroad increased from 700,000 in 2015 to nearly 1.7 million in 2017. 

The UN Refugee Agency now estimates more that 6 million people have fled Venezuela to escape violence, threats, and lack of food, medicine and services – a mass exodus known as the Bolivarian diaspora.

Reporter Ron MacArthur contributed to this article.


Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter