We, the undersigned refugee and immigrant-serving organizations in Florida, write with grave concern regarding the numerous anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills under consideration in the Florida state legislature.
The hard work and determination of refugees and immigrants, who helped found and build up our country through successive generations, is an intrinsic part of our national legacy. By recognizing this proud and uniquely American heritage, we must also recognize the valuable contributions that new immigrants and refugees continue to bring to our communities and economy. These bills would be severely detrimental to these important members of our community and to the communities that welcome them.
Recently, the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee passed HB 1095, which would place onerous requirements on the state to conduct redundant and superfluous background checks on all refugees already in or coming to Florida -- without additional resources.
Refugees are already the most scrutinized individuals to travel to the United States under any immigrant or non-immigrant category. Before being admitted, refugees undergo name, biographic and bio-metric checks; in-person interviews by specially-trained officers of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); forensic testing of documents; DNA testing for family reunification cases; medical screenings; and intensive security screening by the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of State, Department of Defense, and National Counterterrorism Center amongst other federal security and intelligence agencies.
HB 1095, and its Senate companion SB 1712, wrongly treats refugees as if they were terrorists themselves, rather than individuals and families who are fleeing persecution and terrorism in their home countries. It would severely restrict refugee resettlement in the state, and send the message that Florida will not welcome refugees fleeing violence and persecution who seek safety and a new life.
This bill would mandate sharing the passport, fingerprint, and address information of refugees from specific countries with Florida police and military and authorize these law enforcement bodies to monitor these refugees, raising dire privacy concerns and causing severe detriment to the psycho-social wellbeing and feeling of belonging of newly arrived refugees who already fled government persecution.
Excluding those who are in their moment of most dire need, simply because of their national origin or faith background, is immoral and unjust. Giving the governor military power to keep refugees out of our state sends an unwelcoming, hateful, and discriminatory message to people fleeing for their lives and does not represent the values of people across Florida.
In addition, though Senate Bill 872 has been introduced as a measure to increase public safety, as currently presented, this legislation will not make communities or cities in Florida any safer. Instead, it compromises public safety, creates unfunded burdens on local law enforcement, and disputes the contributions immigrants and refugees make in our communities. Senate Bill 872 forces local police and may even force schools to serve as immigration enforcement officers who must report and detain immigrants solely for being undocumented.
This bill would reverse years of intentional, community-based policing efforts that seek to welcome the participation of immigrant communities and neighborhood public safety programs across Florida. Precious trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities will deteriorate under this bill. Safety increases for everyone when all individuals can report criminal or otherwise dangerous situations and seek protection from violence without the fear of being deported and separated from their families.
The Senate bill and its House companion H 0675 would require significant resources to identify and track immigrants and refugees in the state.
Providing for public safety is an essential role of government. These bills do the opposite because they erect barriers between local authorities and immigrant and refugee communities. Florida is a compassionate state that makes the welcome of people from other countries -- especially those fleeing persecution or seeking safety and liberty -- an essential part of our way of life. We are truly a great state when we welcome refugees and immigrants and care for the most vulnerable among us.
SB 872 and HB 1095 repudiate our practice of welcome and the American values we hold dear. We urge you not to adopt them or even give them a hearing in your committees.
Americans for Immigrant Justice
Central Florida Presbytery
East Coast Migrant Head Start Project
Global Ties Miami
Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services
Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc.
International Rescue Committee Miami and Tallahassee
Lutheran Services Florida, Inc.
Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida
Rural Women’s Health Project
United We Dream
VIDA Legal Assistance, Inc.
Youth Co-Op, Inc.