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Faith Groups Respond to U.S. Climate Migration in Real-Time

By Nichole Tucker
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Climate migration is one of the many climate effects that experts said was already happening around the world and soon America itself would begin to see refugees migrate from islands and coastal states to escape the severe weather. Indeed, since Hurricane Maria, more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to nearby Florida. It is estimated that the number of migrants will reach 300,000 by the end of 2017. As these American islanders join the mainland, certain faith organizations are greeting them upon arrival, in partnership with FEMA. Other faith organizations were already there, supporting these efforts, to begin with.

Help During the Climate Crisis

Two years ago, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NLEC) partnered with the Evangelical Covenant Church to lend a helping hand to Puerto Rico. One leader of this partnership, Rev. Michael Carrion, recently explained the dynamic of the collaboration known to the public as Proyecto Nehemías (Project Nehemiah) when news of their work in Florida was released.

It’s multiple agencies, multiple churches, multiple denominations. It’s kingdom work in every sense of the word.

Project Nehemiah is unique with its “on the ground” assistance for individuals and families who cannot leave these Puerto Rico communities; Morovis, Villalba, Comerio, Utuado, Naguabo,.Barranquitas, Ponce, and Arecibo. Now, as many Puerto Ricans secure funding to migrate to the mainland, the groups involved with Project Nehemiah have expanded their services.

Continuing Aid During the Climate Migration

The city of Orlando has reportedly received half of the 168,000 people who have migrated from Puerto Rico to Florida. With so many arrivals, NLEC and the Evangelical Covenant Church have joined forces with the Assemblies of God Florida Multicultural District and a local congregation, Calvario City Church.

The partnership aims not only to help migrants as they arrive but also to survive in their new environment. Project Nehemiah leader, Jeanette Salguero recently explained the mission in greater detail.

"We are taking a comprehensive and holistic approach. We have to meet needs long term."

Because of the apparent need for immediate and long-term assistance to Puerto Ricans, the partnership provide:

  • A welcome bag at the airport
  • Temporary housing
  • English Second Language classes
  • FEMA packages

President of the NLEC and Blessed Tomorrow leader, Gabriel Salguero sees this work as a mission of religious leadership in the time of need.

“The purpose of tapping into this resource is to commit ourselves to the long-term efforts that will be necessary for a total rebuild. There is still going to be a lot to do and we, the Church, will be there.”

More Migration on the Horizon

Puerto Rico is not the only U.S. island that was devastated by a hurricane. The same case is true for the islands of the very state that Puerto Ricans are seeking refuge in. With much of the Florida Keys population still unable to return home after Hurricane Irma, experts predict that many islanders will make Florida’s mainland their permanent place of residence. According to statements made by Project Nehemiah leaders, the religious partnership is fully prepared to help in the future.