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Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Pedro Pan Participants including Business and Community Leaders Tell FL. Gov. DeSantis: ‘Children, Yes!; Politics, No!’

By February 10, 2022No Comments


‘Waging war on immigrants hurts kids and the economy’
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MIAMI – Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski and business and community leaders who were Pedro Pan Airlift participants on Thursday rebuked Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies in the state Legislature for advancing anti-immigrant policies that hurt children and Florida’s economy.

During a news conference at the Archdiocese of Miami Pastoral Center, sponsored by the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), its Florida chapter IMPAC Fund, the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), and the Venezuelan American Alliance, Archbishop Wenski castigated DeSantis for remarks earlier this week in which the governor called it “disgusting” to compare the current arrival of unaccompanied minors children to the Cuban children who arrived in Florida during the 1960s under Operation Pedro Pan.

“This is a new low. Children are children, and no child should be deemed disgusting, especially by a public servant,” Wenski said, adding that opposition to today’s unaccompanied children by a few Pedro Pan participants is “certainly disappointing.” The governor’s “political theater….his bullying of kids, I think also showed weakness,” Wenski added, before introducing a Honduran family, whose son spent several weeks at a Catholic Charities facility upon his arrival to the U.S.

Speakers at the press conference stood near a photo of a reunited immigrant family that read in Spanish and English, “AM I DISGUSTING?” Other posters stated, “CHILDREN, YES! POLITICS, NO!”

“The actions being proposed, the law being implemented is cruel, and those promoting it should be embarrassed by this crusade which they have totally embraced,” echoed  Mike Fernandez, Chairman of MBH Healthcare Partners, ABIC Co-Chair and IMPAC Fund Founder. “Governor, it is shameful of you to surround yourself with a few supporters earlier this week in Miami and claim that Cuban children who fled Cuba decades ago are any better than children arriving today from Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and many other countries. I assure you that these children are not inferior in any way. They want to have a similar impact as we did when we arrived decades ago,” Fernandez added.

Pedro Pan participants rejected DeSantis’ latest anti-immigrant campaign as a crass political ploy without regard to the welfare of children.

“New arrivals today are bringing skills and ingenuity that our state needs to propel itself forward, just as Pedro Pans did more than a half century ago,” said IMPAC Fund boardABIC board member Tony Argiz, Chairman & CEO, Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra, LLP and a Pedro Pan survivor. He became emotional when he recalled his journey. “The parents sending their kids today are just like my parents. They simply want their children to be safe and live in a free democracy,” Argiz added.

IMPAC Fund board member Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, President Emeritus of Miami Dade College, who came to the U.S. under Operation Pedro Pan, said, “Common sense and our sense of humanity must prevail at this time. The current policies being considered in Tallahassee today are ill advised and thoroughly misguided….This should never happen in America. It is our moral duty to protect these children. They have already endured enough suffering. Let’s not allow these children to be used as a political football. Let’s stop playing politics with immigrant children.”

“I was 13 years old when I arrived in Florida in 1961. I felt very elated to have left the oppressive Castro regime, but, at the same time, I felt extreme homesickness because I left behind my parents and my brothers whom I loved dearly,” said Elena Muller Garcia, Pedro Pan participant; retired staff of Catholic Charities of theDiocese of Palm Beach. “Sending me alone almost 62 years ago was one of the hardest decisions my parents ever made. I feel the angst of the parents who today are compelled to send their children to safety thousands of miles away from home. I feel the homesickness the children must feel today arriving alone as I did then.” She closed her remarks by stating in Spanish and English, “Children, yes! Politics, no!”

“As an entrepreneur and a catholic, I strongly believe that a welcoming Florida for all is both morally right and economically smart, especially as our state faces an extreme labor shortage,” Felice Gorordo, son of a Pedro Pan participant, IMPAC Fund Board Member and CEO of eMerge Americas. “As the son of a Pedro Pan and as the father of two young children, I’m utterly disgusted at how unaccompanied kids and the Cuban American experience has been weaponized for partisan politics. This isn’t about politics; it’s all about the well being of children who are fleeing violence and oppression.”

Some speakers noted that today’s actions by the governor would be remembered by the children when they become citizens and are eligible to vote.

“Every child is a project of being, and I believe, Mr. Governor, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, one of them will be sitting where you sit to make decisions for your families, for your grandchildren and for you, and therefore the decision you are taking is immoral and unethical,” said Fr. Reginald Jean-Mary, Pastor, Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church. “We pray that the good Lord will change your heart to make you a better person, a better human being so that people can continue to live with the dignity of God’s children.”

“I’m here to say that Catholic Charities is committed to serve those unaccompanied minors who come to us by providing a safe and nurturing environment. Over 60 years we’ve been doing this; it is a part of our mission; it’s who we are,” said Peter Routsis-Arroyo, CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Miami. “Over 85 percent of the unaccompanied minors who come to us get reunited with family here in the United States, many in Florida. Our license will soon expire and unless it’s renewed, unless there’s some sort of understanding between the Governor’s office, it’s possible that we will no longer be able to carry out our mission.”

Maria Antonietta Diaz, Founder and President, Venezuelan American Alliance said: “Governor DeSantis is trying to divide the victims of communism between good ones and bad ones. That should tell us all we need to know – for him, it’s pure  politics… I beg the governor, cease this anti-immigrant politics and keep these children safe and families together.”

Tessa Petit, Co-Executive Director, Florida Immigration Rights Coalition, said, “Floridians are facing a massive crisis. Housing prices are rising astronomically with no consumer protection, and we have not yet made it through the other side of the pandemic. You’d think our legislators would do their jobs, serve the public and promote legislation that actually protects all Floridians. Instead they’re fabricating a crisis at the expense of the lives and welfare of children, creating fear and hate in the hearts of our communities, and, most of all, damaging our economy.”

In 2021, Gov. DeSantis passed executive order 2021-223 which effectively cuts off state funding to any agencies, including Catholic Charities, that provide services to unaccompanied undocumented immigrant children. While this action’s constitutionality is currently being considered under appeal by the 13th Circuit, Florida state leadership is following up with SB1808 and HB1355, bills which would ban state or local government contracts with firms that provide transportation to unaccompanied undocumented immigrants. You can read more here.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is once again stoking the anti-immigrant fiery rhetoric with his executive order banning licenses to federally funded shelters that house unaccompanied immigrant children. That policy would be compounded by proposed state legislative provisions aimed at keeping undocumented immigrants, including unaccompanied children, from reuniting with Florida families, by banning state and local government contracts with transportation carriers that service undocumented immigrants. These policies hurt Florida businesses and citizens facing extreme labor shortage and rising prices.

Last week, following Archbishop Wenski’s appeal “Why is governor going after children?,” ABIC delivered a letter to DeSantis and FL State House and Senate leadership signed by nearly 50 business leaders and several survivors of the Pedro Pan Airlift calling on DeSantis to end his latest anti-immigrant campaign.

The American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) promotes common sense immigration solutions that advances economic competitiveness, provides companies with both the high-skilled and low-skilled talent they need, and allows the integration of immigrants into our economy as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, and citizens.

IMPAC Fund, Florida chapter of the American Business Immigration Coalition, represents a growing and diverse set of businesses and business associations promoting common sense immigration solutions that benefit the people and economy of Florida.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition is a statewide alliance of over 60 member organizations, including farmworkers, students, service providers, grassroots organizations and legal advocates, who come together for the fair treatment of all people

The Venezuelan-American Alliance creates awareness of the social, political and economic situation in Venezuela among the United States government and population; advocates for legislation, regulation and programs to support and promote freedom, democracy and human rights for its population and diaspora; and helps regain the road to prosperity.