Okaloosa County Commissioners are in the process of drafting a resolution that would voice opposition to relocating Middle East Conflict Zone refugees to the county. However, board members have asked staff to rework the language in the resolution before bringing it back for consideration at their next meeting.
The item was initially put on the agenda by Commissioner Trey Goodwin.
“I have a grave concern about the safety and security of our citizens, our residents, in particular in Okaloosa County with the military assets we have as well as Floridians and Americans at large,” said Goodwin.
Goodwin says he brought the proposed resolution to the board after hearing from a number of citizens, expressing similar concerns regarding the resettling of Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Florida.
“What the point and the purpose is here, is to send a message or a statement to our state and federal leadership letting them know that Okaloosa County finds that national security and the security of our county and state to be one of the upmost priorities," Goodwin said. "We’re concerned about our borders and we’re concerned about the vetting processes that may be available to bring in potential refugees.”
To date, less than 200 of the 2,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. in the past few years are in Florida. During a recent visit to Pensacola, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Orlando) said he was comfortable with the vetting process and okay with plans to resettle an additional 425 in the sunshine state.
Nevertheless, Goodwin says there’s still reluctance among locally elected officials, not just in Okaloosa, but across the region and beyond.
“Escambia has already passed a similar, and Bay County has as well. I know Santa Rosa County is considering one. Hopefully all 67 counties in Florida will do something similar and other local jurisdictions and other states. “
“I would prefer a resolution that first notes the fact that we do intend to be helpful to the rest of the world. We do intend to be participatory in this crisis," said Commission Chairman Nathan Boyles, who wasn’t comfortable with how the resolution was worded.
“We’re not saying that we don’t want to help but we’re saying that because we want to do so in such a way that is protective of our own security and our own homeland. To simply express it in this manner is to essentially say we’re going to be isolationists which I think we have several hundred years of history saying that’s precisely not what we are as America."
Also in favor of rewording the resolution is District 1 Commissioner Wayne Harris. Harris says it’s a bit beyond the scope of the commission to make such a profound decision, however the county should convey their stand on the issue to state officials.
“As been proven in the past, Cuban refugees and I believe Haitian refugees were put here by the federal government," said Harris. "We can’t control that. But, I think what it does do is give credence to our governor saying no. And to me, that’s all it does.”
The resolution will be back up for discussion at the next County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 15.