U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost pulled no punches in criticizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for hiring private companies to distribute migrant relocation flyers at an Orlando-area church that serves immigrants.
Titled “Welcome to my bright horizon,” the brochures promised immigrants of color free relocation to other states where they could build new lives. But the reality is they would be transported to Democratic-led states and abandoned without contacts or resources, Frost and numerous political and religious leaders said during a recent news conference.
“It is racist. It is bigoted. If we had a Black or Latino governor who was complaining about the fact that our state was taking in Ukrainian refugees … and said we’re going to use taxpayer dollars to target the Ukrainians to get them to leave the state, what would you call him? You would call him a bigot. You would call him a racist,” said Frost, a Democrat who represents Orlando in Congress.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Texas-based contractor Access Restoration Services distributed the English, Creole and Spanish pamphlets and that it is one of three companies DeSantis hired to move Black and Hispanic immigrants to other states.
The action is a continuation of the governor’s anti-immigration campaign that has included flying immigrants to locations such as Martha’s Vineyard and vowing to assist Texas in its crackdown on illegal border crossings. Last year, he signed a bill that made transportation of undocumented immigrants — even to church — a felony. The law, which is undergoing a court challenge, is a concern to churches that transport immigrants to and from services.
“We are here to fight for humanity. It’s not about Democrat versus Republican. It’s about the people versus the problem. And this is a problem,” Frost said.
Immigrant communities and their advocates must protest the state’s anti-immigration policies and continue to embrace the stranger, said Jose Rodriguez, co-rector of Christ the King Episcopal Church, the congregation where the brochures recently were dropped.
“Last year we stood here when the Martha Vineyard flights happened, and we reminded people of our shared humanity and our duty of care to our neighbor and how cruel and inhumane that movement of people to Massachusetts was,” he said during the press briefing hosted at his church.
Immigrants who were flown from Florida to Massachusetts in 2023 also received glossy brochures claiming the New England state welcomed them.
“I don’t care who you are, where you come from — this is a refuge for everyone. We’re all sinners. That’s what Scripture says. We’re all the same. They try to make it illegal, and we had to rise up to challenge unjust laws,” Rodriguez said.
In Spanish and in English, Rodriguez appealed directly to immigrants not to fall for the false promises contained in the brochures. Doing so will result in relocation to cold cities like Chicago and New York and isolation from family and friends, he warned.
He added that it caused him great pain to learn Florida attempted to use his church to take advantage of vulnerable people. “I feel that my religious liberties, my freedom of worship, my freedom to believe has been violated. I am here to help people, all people, regardless of what community they come from or what community they belong to.”
“You’re attempting to subvert us and turn us into agents of the state.”
DeSantis and other state leaders have gone too far by involving churches in their plans, Rodriguez said. “You’re not content with subverting the Christian message to pass some of your unjust laws. Now you’re attempting to subvert us and turn us into agents of the state.”
Bishop Derrick McRae, senior pastor at The Experience Christian Center in Orlando, said he felt immediate disgust when he learned the state was using churches to push its anti-immigrant agenda.
“It is disheartening to witness the exploitation of vulnerable communities for political gain,’ said McRae, who also serves as president of the African American Council of Christian Clergy. “We must call upon our state government to literally stand down from your political agendas and begin to look at the well-being of mankind. It is our duty as citizens.”
It’s also time Florida stopped treating immigrants as if they were enemies bent on destroying America, he said. “These individuals seek safety and a better future, and often face immense hardships and danger during their journeys. They leave behind everything they know, their homes and their families, in search of a safer and more prosperous life.”
Frost said the resources exist to welcome and assist immigrants. What is lacking is the will to create better policies.
“What we can’t be doing is using taxpayer dollars to human traffic people in our community to New York or Chicago and leave them on the side of the road,” he said.
Do not pay attention or believe the promises made in the pamphlets, he said to immigrants and asylum seekers. “They are not going to help you find a job on the other side. They’re not going to help you find housing on the other side. They want you to leave the state because they don’t like who you are.”
In the meantime, Frost said he will use his congressional office to educate Floridians about the real purpose of the literature.
“And as a member of the House Oversight Committee, I am going to be calling for us to continue to look and investigate the anti-democratic practices of Ron DeSantis, who is using taxpayer dollars to push through a bigoted agenda at our churches, at our food pantries, and in our communities. This is a damn shame.”
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