Faith leaders are invited to sign this letter to Governor Ron DeSantis in support of resettling refugees in Florida. The current administration proposes to reduce the refugee resettlement program to a fifth of its average international commitment and require states and localities to opt in. Florida has been a model state for resettlement by the faith community. Since Florida is a family destination state, refugees will continue to become our local neighbors in Florida. Withdrawing from the resettlement program will discontinue a long-standing faith practice and deprive refugees in Florida of support US State Department grants. Join with other faith leaders in saying, “Florida Welcomes Refugees!”
All Saints Day 2019
Dear Governor Ron DeSantis,
Floridians welcome refugees. A core religious teaching across our diverse faith communities is hospitality towards strangers and care for refugees. As faith leaders, we want you to know of our strong and abiding support for the refugee resettlement program under the US Department of State and the State of Florida’s continual participation in it. Many of our local congregations have benefited immensely from providing the friendship and family support systems that help refugees become productive residents among us. By resettling refugees, we put into practice core values rooted in our sacred texts such as:
“Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34 CE)
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2 NRSV)
We write out of deep concern that the current public conversation on American identity often incites a hostile climate towards foreign-born persons. It is our moral and sacred duty to defend the immigrant and refugee and to advocate for their wellbeing in our midst. Our reasons draw from both our faith and patriotic values. We know we are all “sojourners and aliens” on Earth and that as the Ten Commandments teach “we were once slaves” in another land, Therefore we are to be open-hearted and welcoming especially to those who’ve been forced to flee violence and devastation in their own homelands. This is in fact our national story. The pilgrim, the indentured servant, the immigrant from the potato famine, and the refugee from continental wars in Europe and Indochina: each in their own era drove economic expansion that led this country to its unparalleled prowess.
Thus, we are profoundly dismayed by the current proposals to limit refugee resettlement to a fifth of its historical average. Florida has been and needs to continue to be a national model for refugees. We are now the fourth largest economy among the states because of our welcome to refugees and immigrants. The diversity within our state is driving our economy at every level and inspires our congregations to greater service within our communities. We all benefit from the presence of refugees in our midst. Their knowledge and experience of overcoming adversity, their will to succeed despite overwhelming obstacles, and their endearing hope in a better future reinforce the very values that make Florida great. We don’t fear refugees; we welcome them, their ingenuity and their energy. It’s why the faith community helped create the US refugee resettlement program initially, and it’s why every major faith group participates in resettling refugees.
On September 26, the White House issued an Executive Order (EO 13888) that could stop the resettlement of refugees in Florida. While details on the impact of the order are yet unclear, it appears that local elected officials or the Governor could decide to opt out. Withdrawing from resettlement programs would repudiate our widely shared faith practices of hospitality and welcome as well as lead to keeping refugees approved for resettlement separated from their families. Also, since refugees often relocate once they are resettled within the US, those who moved to Florida would become ineligible of receiving State Department grants. No one wins by withdrawing from resettlement programs and doing so won’t prevent refugees from coming to Florida.
The United States has a long history of resettling refugees, who by definition have fled persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group. Resettlement is the last option for safety for refugees who cannot return home and cannot rebuild their lives in a nearby country. Refugees undergo rigorous security checks, including interviews with Department of Homeland Security officers. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is a public-private partnership between the federal government, state governments, local non-profit organizations, communities of faith, and volunteers.
We urge you to think about the moral imperative to love our neighbor, welcome the sojourner, and care for the most vulnerable among us. Refugee resettlement is important to our state. We ask you to affirm the importance of this life-saving program, tell the administration and Secretary Pompeo to publicly declare that Florida and its municipalities welcome refugees, and urge the administration to return the program to historic norms.
We thank you for your public service and for your attention to keeping Florida safe for both faith practices and refugees
God bless you, your family, and all Floridians!