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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Republican Mayor in Lewiston Maine writes about refugees who became citizens

Maine's Governor LePage says he'll join other Republican US governors who will oppose accepting Syrian refugees. Yet, the Republican Mayor of Lewiston suggests the governor's statement may be premature. It's not the governor, nor the mayor nor the city council who decidesMoreover, Lewiston's Mayor MacDonald writes a contradictory opinion column about how recent immigrants have successfully assimilated into the city, but then does an about face regarding those who are likely yet to arrive. 


Governor Pau LePage of Maine - Republican
Mayor MacDonald of Lewiston is running for a third term


Lewiston Maine is a small city, but the reputation of the residents has been to welcome foriegners. Indeed, Franco-Americans from Quebec and French Canada helped to build the city, because they migrated by the thousands, arriving on foot and railroad, during the 19th and 20th centuries. The economic "refugees" from Canada found work in once prosperous manufacturing mills, located along the Androscoggin River.  Those who stayed after the mills closed built important city institutions like hospitals, churches and small businesses.

In recent elections, the Lewiston's voters changed their preference for Democrats and elected conservative Mayor Robert E. MacDonald to lead city government. After serving two terms, Lewiston's Mayor is now challenged in a December 8th run off election, against a well funded challenger named Ben Chin. 


Frankly, I was somewhat surprised to read the Mayor's commentary in Twin City Times newspaper,about the city's Somali immigrant residents. Many of the Somalians are Muslims, who fled the carnage in their African homes and were resettled in Lewiston.

CNN Amy Bass reports - Lewiston, Maine, is a former mill town that sits on the banks of the Androscoggin River and is largely Quebecois in heritage. Two weeks ago, the high school brought home the city's first state boys soccer championship. And they did it with a team that includes players from Congo, Kenya, Turkey, Germany and Somalia.



Now, the challenged Mayor MacDonald writes in Twin City Times about the accomplishments of Lewiston's immigrants. Moreover, he also reminded readers about how immigration is controlled by the US President. This is a contradictory commentary from a conservative city mayor who has a reputation for often being strident in support of conservative political policies. Although the mayor applauds the accomplishments of the city's immigrants, he turns on those who will follow by challenging their benevolent sponsors and advocates.


Mayor MacDonald writes in the November 26th, Twin City Times in his column "Enough is Enough":


During my tenure as Mayor, I have had the opportunity to attend several citizenship ceremonies. These new citizens come from many lands. They speak many languages. They are of many faiths.
But what binds them all tightly together is their new status: they are now proud and patriotic Americans.


I do not use words lightly. Observing these new citizens on taking their loyalty oath dissolves any doubt in your mind. Their facial expression says it all. But many times, this image personally haunts me when I am at an event where native born Americans disrespect our country by failing to remove their hats or talking or paying no attention when our National Anthem is played.


Prior to our city council meeting last week, I was informed that several of Lewiston's citizens had been shouted at and referred to as "terrorists".  This resulted in my warning that this behavior was to immediately cease and that it would not be tolerated.


A great many of our refugees are now American citizens with the same rights enjoyed by all Americans. We have had four years of peace in our city and there is no reason for this type of foolishness.


Our one time refugees have now assimilated into our community. They are productive citizens, owning homes and businesses.  They are gainfully employed and contribute to our local, state and federal government through taxes.  Their children have brought our high school graduation rate up to 70 percent.


The Lewiston High School soccer players are not only state champs, but they hold a high rating in New England and the country.


Upon arriving home one night last week, I turned on the O'Reilly Factor and watched Bill O'Reilly's interview of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the subject of immigration. Christie was asked if New Jersey currently had any Syrians living there and, if so, how many? O'Reilly was taken back by the answer. Christie stated he had some; but did not know how many.


The sad truth is that the federal government contracts with various agencies (in Maine it is Catholic Charities) which then resettles refugees without notifying state or local officials.  In the case of the Syrians, if a Syrian refugee enters into Lewiston's General Assistance Office, an employee in that office will immediately call me so I can call Governor Paul R. LePage and inform him of our newest arrivals.


A few months ago, shortly after the outbreak of war in Yemen, we had refugees from Yemen showing up at our General Assistance Office with no advance warning. The sad truth is, neither the governors, nor the mayors nor the city councilors of our great country can stop this influx. It can only be stopped by the President.


Lastly, I have two questions. The first is for Catholic Charities. How can you morally justify relocating refugees into a struggling city such as Lewiston knowing that these resettlements will lead to either higher local taxes or a decrease in municipal services including layoffs? 


To the United Churches of Maine: Why don't you turn your sanctimonious rhetoric into cash so that you not the taxpaying public, can support them?


Last Friday, I attended a ribbon cutting at Liberty Taxes located at 272 Main Street, Lewiston. It has expanded its service to health insurance in order to help our working poor secure affordable health insurance policies.


While there, I had the pleasure of meeting the mother of a young lady involved in the car-moose accident on the Turnpike. She expressed her overwhelming thanks to Central Maine Medical Center for putting her up at the Arbor House so she could be close to her daughter.  She also expressed thanks for the kindness shown and the help given to her by Liberty staff and he people of Lewiston.  Happy Thanksgiving.


Maine Writer responds - Dear Mayor MacDonald, your premise for writing this opinion is self defeating.  Immigrants have built Lewiston and you acknowledge how the most recent relocations have also assimilated. Therefore, with all due respect, your challenging questions to Catholic Charities and the Maine Council of Churches makes no sense. Immigrants have been law abiding citizens while, as you point out, it's often the native born Americans who seem to be the people who need to be criticized. 


Nevertheless, Mayor MacDonald makes a good point. Neither Governor LePage, nor the Mayor of Lewiston nor anybody else will prevent Syrian refugees from being relocated in Maine, should they arrive here. "Bienvenue", as Franco-Americans say, to all refugees, whoever they are and wherever they eventually live. We cannot victimize these desperate people twice. They are anxious to participate in a new world, after fleeing far from their homes, and, according to Mayor MacDonald, they are largely succeeding.

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