Catholics speak against DeSantis’ policy targeting housing for migrant children

Archdiocese of Miami to DeSantis: ‘Children yes! Politics no!’

The Archdiocese of Miami held a news conference on Thursday to respond to Gov. Ron DeSantis statements about the housing of unaccompanied children.

MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Before Andy Rodriguez was reunited with his parents, the unaccompanied minor from Honduras was a resident of a children’s village in Miami-Dade County.

The boy stood behind a podium with his parents, Yesenia and Manuel Rodriguez, during a news conference on Thursday at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Miami Shores.

“I was scared when I arrived in the United States alone, but when I arrived at children’s village I felt much better,” Andy said in Spanish. He lived there for 11 days before being reunited with his parents who live in South Florida.

The Archdiocese of Miami held the event with several speakers who criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to target facilities like the historic Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh Children’s Village, which receives federal funding to take care of unaccompanied migrant minors like Andy. Formerly known as Boystown, it was the home of the Pedro Pan children who Walsh rescued from Cuba.

DeSantis ordered the Florida Department of Children and Families on Dec. 10 to stop renewing the licenses of the facilities that provide housing to the migrant minors. On Monday, DeSantis visited Miami’s American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora to promote his policy and said it was “disgusting” to compare the Pedron Pan kids to the current situation.

“Children are children and no child should be deemed disgusting,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski said, adding that the event at the museum was “political theater.”

DeSantis wants Florida lawmakers to turn his order into state law. Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, a Cuban-American health care mogul, also took issue with DeSantis’s use of the word “disgusting” and said children who arrived from Cuba are not superior to the children who are arriving mostly from Central America today.

“Those children are someone else’s but they should be like ours,” Fernandez said, later adding, “Children should not be part of a politician’s political tool.”

Antonio “Tony” Argiz was in tears. The business leader, who founded a top accounting firm, said he was a 9-year-old Pedro Pan child who benefited from the mission of the Catholic church. His plea to DeSantis was to support the migrant children who will later contribute to the economy as he did.

“I am a Roman Catholic and we believe in human dignity; that is extremely important in our church,” Argiz said. “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.”

Eduardo José Padrón, the former president of Miami Dade College, was also Pedro Pan child who lived in the village. He also spoke against DeSantis’ order and said the policy was “misguided.” He also said there was a need to stop “playing politics” with immigrant children.

“This should never happen in America. It’s our moral duty to protect these children,” Padrón said.

Elena Muller Garcia, of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Palm Beach, said she was 13 years old when she arrived alone from Cuba to the U.S. as part of Operation Pedro Pan and received assistants and support from Catholics in Miami and Dallas, Texas. She said she was reunited with her parents about four years later.

“I feel the homesickness that the children must feel today arriving alone as I did then,” Muller Garcia said, adding DeSantis should welcome the children.

Peter Routsis-Arroyo, the chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, said there needs to be an agreement between federal and state authorities to be able to continue helping the children. Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary, of the Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Miami’s Little Haiti, asked DeSantis to reconsider his “immoral and unethical” decision.

Jean-Mary’s message to DeSantis: “We pray that the good Lord will change your heart.”

Watch the event on YouTube

About the Authors:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.