A bill that would prohibit help to relocate certain foreign refugees and immigrants to the state was approved by a committee in the Florida House of Representatives days after Gainesville became the first ‘Welcoming City’ in Florida.
The Prevention of Acts of War, HB 1095, sponsored by Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville), prohibits any entity receiving state funds from assisting with entry into or resettlement in the state of designated restricted people.
“The bottom line is to allow the state to be engaged in the discussion of refugees and immigrants from areas that harbor terrorists,” Ray said.
Despite open opposition from public testimony and a couple of representatives, including Rep. John Cortes (D-Kissimmee) who said he didn’t want to target individuals and instead preferred to speak directly to Congress about the issue, the act passed the committee on a nine to six vote.
Richard MacMaster, a board member for Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, dislikes the proposed legislation.
“It’s a terrible piece of legislation [that’s] penalizing people who have nothing to do with undermining the security of the United States and who are fleeing from the horrors of war.” MacMaster said.
MacMaster said there were comments that confused the idea of a ‘welcoming city’ with the idea that Gainesville is becoming a sanctuary city that would not follow federal laws regarding undocumented immigrants when the city commission was adopting the welcoming city proposal.
“Really just a lot of nonsense that people convince themselves of,” MacMaster said. “Welcoming city means to be an open and inclusive community that welcomes people from all [backgrounds] and tries to encourage the richness of many different cultural heritages.”
There are people that are afraid to come to America, MacMaster said. The point of the ‘Welcoming City’ title is to counter that by saying we want to welcome everyone in the world.
Ray said the bill is not about keeping anyone out.
“We’re humane people, we want to see these people have a safe refuge,” Ray said. “But at the same time we can’t put that above protecting our citizens.”
Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota), co-sponsor of the bill said the bill shows fear.
“I think we’re sending a message that we’re afraid and we just want a little bit more assurance.” Pilon said.
MacMaster said the message being sent out is appalling.
“If I were [a refugee] who wanted to come here,” MacMaster said. “I might very well think that Florida is a very un-friendly place.”
Editors note: This story has been updated to correct a previous version that incorrectly attributed public testimony to Rep. Robert Cortez.