Conservative group appeals to displaced Puerto Ricans with 'Welcome to Florida' classes ahead of the 2018 midterms

Puerto Rican flag.
(Image credit: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

A conservative, Koch brothers-backed group is making overtures to Puerto Ricans who have recently moved to Florida, offering English-language and "Welcome to Florida" classes to the more than 300,000 islanders who have passed through the state since Hurricane Maria last year, The Washington Post reports. While the heads of the nonprofit Libre Institute claim it doesn't have a directly political motive — "We want people to make an educated decision for themselves," said deputy state director David Velasquez — the move comes just ahead of the 2018 midterms, drawing criticism from progressive organizations.

Democrats, for example, have been skeptical of the Libre Institute in the past, "accusing the group of skirting nonprofit laws by handing out ideological material; collecting names, email addresses, and phone numbers; and basically doing the early legwork that Republicans should otherwise be doing to win over new voters," the Post writes. The Libre Institute president, Daniel Garza, argued that the group in fact gives Puerto Ricans "the needed guidance and tools they're going to need to transition faster" while giving the institute "an opportunity … to educate them on the ideas that we feel make America strong — the principles of economic freedom."

New Floridians are being referred to the Libre Institute by churches, Spanish-language radio stations, the local hospital, and some state officials who greet newcomers at the airport. The institute's "Welcome to Florida" class launches in Orlando this week, and programs are expected to soon expand to Miami and Tampa. Read more about the program at The Washington Post.

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