Over 150 Florida Faith Leaders Urge Legislators to Stop Anti-Immigrant Legislation

Dear Florida State Legislators,

As faith leaders from many different traditions, we write with grave concern regarding the numerous anti-immigrant and anti-refugee legislations under consideration in the Florida state legislature. As people of faith, we look first to our common values rooted in our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us. As Leviticus 19:34 (CE) reminds us:

"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."

Part of our nation's legacy is the hard work and determination of immigrants and refugees who helped found and build it up through successive generations. By recognizing this proud heritage, we must also recognize the valuable contributions immigrants and refugees continue to bring to our communities and economy.

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 unfounded 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 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 require significant resources to identify and track immigrants and refugees in the state. Recently, the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee 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, undergoing name, biographic and bio-metric checks; medical screenings; forensic testing of documents; DNA testing for family reunification cases; and in-person interviews by the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of State, Department of Defense, and National Counterterrorism Center amongst other agencies.

HB 1095 wrongly treats refugees, who are fleeing terrorism in their home countries, as terrorists themselves. It would severely restrict refugee resettlement in the state. It says that Florida will not welcome refugees fleeing violence and persecution from seeking safety here.

Excluding those who are in their 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 of faith across Florida.

Providing for public safety is an essential role of government. These bills do the opposite because they erect barriers between local authorities and immigrant communities. Florida is a compassionate state that makes the welcome of people from other countries an essential part of our way of life. We are truly a great state when we love our neighbor, welcome immigrants, and care for the most vulnerable among us. SB 872 and HB 1095 repudiate our practice of welcome and the clear statement of values in our faith traditions. We pray that you do not adopt them.

Co-Sponsors: Florida Council of Churches, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Church World Service, We Are Florida!



Clergy Statement on Immigration & Work

No Human Being Is Illegal

In South Florida, our neighbors are very likely of diverse races, countries of origin, language groups, and cultures. We depend on our immigrant neighbors who work the farmland and perform a wide range of service work for our comfort and convenience in condominium complexes, retail stores and supermarkets, hospitals and nursing homes, and countless other places. Our community needs to reflect on how we, each of us, support our neighbors. One way is to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation that establishes a safe and humane immigration system consistent with our values. However, a change in law will not by itself produce a brighter future. We need to value the immigrant working family as we value life itself.

Our diverse faith traditions teach us to welcome our brothers and sisters with love and compassion. The Hebrew Bible tells us: "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, Jesus tells us to "welcome the stranger," for "what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me" (Matthew 25:35, 40). The Qur'an tells us that we "shall give to the needy who immigrated. They were evicted from their homes and deprived of their properties because they sought God's grace" (59:8).

Too many of our poor are immigrants considered “lucky just to have a job."  While we commiserate with the suffering of immigrant families who have lost loved ones to death in the desert or immigrants themselves who have experienced exploitation in the workplace or abuse at the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and others, we stigmatize them by calling them aliens or “illegals.”

As religious leaders, we will earnestly educate our community on the benefits of immigration and strengthen public opinion about the positive contributions of our current as well as previous immigrants. The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually. As Alan Greenspan points out, 70% of immigrants arrive in prime working age. That means we have not spent a penny on their education, yet they are transplanted into our workforce and will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system over the next 20 years. Many will never see a penny of this money if we do not have immigration reform.

As in Leviticus 23:22 - "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God." The poor and the alien have always been related in our faith traditions. It seems that the poor as well as the aliens among us are the un-enfranchised. That is why the faith community needs to "speak for the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:9).

As religious leaders we advocate for the application and improvement of our federal labor laws so that ALL workers' rights for ALL workers are respected, including their right to organize, and that our local labor standards reflect the need to have family sustainable employment. ALL workers have rights and it is up to the community to make sure that they are respected. While we look to our political leadership to redress the wrongs of keeping many millions of valuable immigrant workers and their families in a parallel universe, we have to look to ourselves and our own actions to see God in everyone and honor his creation by acknowledging work as holy.