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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Maine people in the sad position of listening to Governor LePage

I'm mystified about why Governor Paul LePage is obsessed with denegrating Maine's immigrant community and the asylum seekers when his own family were French-Canadian immigrants.  I'm especially distressed about how Governor LePage intimidates asylum seekers because they work so hard to be accepted.  
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Governor Paul LePage has changed the way people think about Maine.  Instead of thinking "LLBean" the state is now becoming affiliated with the LePage habit of using outrageous rhetoric, unsubstantiated claims about "germs", racism and anti-immigration rhetoric

When my husband and I were recently in Prague in the Czech Republic, we were asked the inevitable question about where in America we lived? We were surprised when our questioner didn't respond by saying, "Where's Maine?". Instead, the questioner said, "Oh, that's the state with an outrageous governor!". Today, I received a telephone call from a friend who regularly vacations in Palm Springs, California. At one time, when he visited Palm Springs, the conversations about Maine about "LLBean"; but now the response to Maine is a groan about our Governor.

A Portland Press Herald editorial opinion explains this distress:
Our View: LePage keeps up misinformation campaign against asylum-seekers
The governor's most recent screed - his weildy speeches- about newcomers to the U.S. paints Maine as inhospitable and feeds unwarranted fears.

For the leader of a state that is struggling to maintain its population, Gov. LePage has always had a counterproductive approach to immigration. Now it is bordering on delusional.

On Tuesday night in Freeport, at his most recent town hall-style meeting, the governor called asylum-seekers “the biggest problem in our state.” Never mind the opiate crisis, struggling rural communities and the demographic time bomb that is Maine’s aging population – the real issue, according to LePage, is the relatively small number of people who arrived here seeking a new life after fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.

Fortunately, this is a battle that the governor has lost at nearly every turn. Unfortunately, he continues to wage it, spreading misinformation, giving Maine a reputation as an unwelcoming place, and providing a foothold to anyone with a tendency to fear and loathe newcomers of different races and ethnicities.

The governor’s case against asylum-seekers – at least he didn’t erroneously call them “illegal immigrants,”as he has before – is twofold.

First, he says that scarce state and federal funds should go to Maine residents.

That is at least a reasonable argument, but one that LePage and his allies lost, as others rightly argued that it is not an “either-or” situation, and that Maine both has an obligation to and can benefit from new arrivals.

As a result, a bill was passed giving asylum-seekers the right to collect General Assistance while their application for asylum is processed, during which time they cannot legally work.

The bill went into law without LePage’s signature, and the Republican Party eventually launched an unsuccessful effort to put on the 2016 ballot a referendum that would have effectively overturned the law. The party has said it will try again for 2017.

Until then, LePage can continue to argue that Maine doesn’t have the resources to help asylum-seekers, but the law says they are entitled to that aid, and he has no right to muddy the argument with misleading claims that speak to people’s worst fears about immigrants.

Which brings us to the governor’s second point: that asylum-seekers bring to Maine“hepatitis C, tuberculosis, AIDS, HIV, the ‘ziki fly,’ (sic) all these other foreign type diseases that find a way to our land.”

On this issue, the governor should be ashamed of himself. There is absolutely no proof that asylum-seekers and other immigrants are contributing to anything approaching a public health problem, and to suggest that Mainers are in danger because of their presence is the worst kind of rhetoric.

According to the most recent data available, rates of AIDS and HIV have remained relatively flat in recent years, even as the number of asylum-seekers has grown sharply.

In the same period, hepatitis C has increased slightly, though that has been attributed to the rise in the use of heroin.

Most of the tuberculosis cases in Maine do indeed come from foreign-born residents, but with an average of fewer than 16 cases a year in the prior three years, it is hardly a crisis.

And while LePage is right that asylum-seekers are not screened for medical problems with the same urgency as refugees, there is no evidence that it has created problems here.

So, rather than make the state inhospitable for immigrants, Maine should make sure asylum-seekers have access to health care when they arrive here, as part of a comprehensive effort to welcome them, and put their energy and talents to good use.

I certainly don't like listening to Governor LePage because, frankly, he is an embarrassment to our nation and to Maine.

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