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Refugees Rerouted From Florida Because Of Political Climate

World Relief Jacksonville

A bill to slow the flow of refugees may not have reached the governor's desk, but its impact will still be felt by those looking to resettle in Florida.

Republican Representative Lake Ray’s measure was aimed creating stricter guidelines before allowing Syrian refugees to relocate to Florida.

If Ray had his way, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would double check the backgrounds of refugees before they resettle. That’s on top of a federal background check that takes at least two years.

One resettlement organization rerouted more than 100 people, even though Ray’s bill didn’t pass.

When he filed it, Ray said his bill was a response to the Paris attacks by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But Elaine Carson, the executive director of the refugee-resettlement group World Relief Jacksonville, said Ray was echoing Governor Rick Scott’s hard-line anti-refugee stance.

“I heard him say that he was kind of under pressure to get something to …  act; to present to people quickly,” Carson said.

While Ray’s bill requiring more background checks didn't pass, Carson said her organization’s national leaders cut Florida’s planned resettlements by almost a third — from about 600 to 475 people — because of the state’s unfriendliness toward refugees.

But she said she’s confident Floridians will continue to welcome refugees once fear subsides.

“I mean, I have gotten one call in my 25 years of complaining about refugees,” she said.

The 125 people who would’ve become Floridians will instead be transferred to states with a more hospitable political climate toward refugees, she said.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.