200 Florida Faith Leaders Urge Governor DeSantis to Reconsider Executive Order Blocking Organizations from Caring for Vulnerable Children

January 21, 2022

ORLANDO, FL – Over 200 faith leaders in Florida signed a letter urging Governor Ron DeSantis to reverse an emergency rule blocking the issuance and renewal of state licenses for Florida-based organizations serving unaccompanied children. Under the rule, federally funded facilities partnering with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) will no longer have the ability to house children waiting to be reunified with their family.

As leaders in the faith community, we strongly encourage Governor DeSantis to reconsider his executive order that harms thousands of vulnerable children who have nowhere else to turn. Motivated and guided by our faith, we have accepted the call to love our neighbors as ourselves–this includes caring for our world’s most vulnerable fleeing from violence and trafficking,” said Joel Tooley, Lead Pastor of Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene and Consultant for the Evangelical Immigration Table. “Florida has always welcomed persecuted people and celebrated the unique diversity of backgrounds and religions that call it home. It is our hope the governor reconsiders his action and joins us in recognizing the inherent dignity of every child to receive love, safety, and care in our great state.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) federally funds a network of childcare organizations that provide children with temporary care in shelters or with foster families until they are reunited with relatives. Since these organizations must be licensed to ensure proper state oversight, Orlando families will no longer be able to open their homes because they cannot renew their licenses.

Helping vulnerable immigrant children and serving Florida’s families and children are not mutually exclusive commitments. Putting ‘Florida children first’ should not mean turning away vulnerable children from other countries,” said Rev Dr. Gabriel Salguero, Pastor of the Gathering Place Congregation in Orlando. “Rather than closing off resources and the open arms providing children with care in their darkest hours, I implore the governor to rethink his decision and show that we in Florida love our neighbors as we love one another.”

An excerpt of the letter reads:

“The mission of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is ‘to work in partnership with local communities to protect the vulnerable, promote strong and economically self-sufficient families, and advance personal and family recovery and resiliency.’ As people of faith and leaders of organizations that have served vulnerable children and families in Florida for decades, we fully support this mission. However, the recently enacted emergency order restricts the ability of faith communities and faith-based organizations to serve vulnerable families by requiring us to choose only one group of vulnerable children to serve.”