By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
This week I ask the reader’s indulgence. I had hoped to go on to another topic, but suddenly fortune shined on me which, in the words of a current asylum seeker living in Lewiston, certified the position of Governor Paul LePage and myself.
Back on June 18, I wrote a column about illegal aliens (“asylum seekers”) that continue to arrive in Lewiston. The first few paragraphs were filled with sarcasm in an attempt to add a bit of humor to an issue that puts a fiscal strain on Lewiston’s property taxpayers. This brought a response, in the form of a Letter to the Editor, from Djima Aiman of Lewiston.
Before proceeding, I want to make it clear that I do not believe that Lewiston’s refugees, be they legal or illegal, came here to join the welfare rolls. Like those before them, they come to this land to seek a better life, which they hope to gain through hard work.
Ainan identifies herself as a community leader, a student who has been granted asylum, thus making her eligible for employment.
She points out the legal definition of a refugee and an asylee is the same. On paper they may look alike, but in reality they are quite different. Because of civil strife, violence and war in their native land, our Somali refugees were forced to flee on foot or by some sort of motorized vehicle to a neighboring country, seeking safety.
They arrive with the clothes on their backs and a few possessions. The majority of these people were then placed in United Nations refugee camps. Eventually, they were repatriated by the United Nations to a member country.
Those who were sent to the United States are no longer met with a bowl of soup and instructions to vote Tammany. They were turned over to organizations, such as Catholic Charities in Maine and Jewish Philanthropies in New York, to be resettled.
Now let’s contrast that to Djima Ainan’s story. She “came here in 2009 from Djibouti [a country bordering Somalia on its west] because her life was at risk and someone in my family was torturing me. If I had stayed there, I would have been killed. My only way out was a visa.”
I have no doubt that Ainan’s life was in danger. When she came to this realization, why did she not go to the Djibouti civil authorities for protection? Why did she not seek safety in a bordering country? Unlike our Somali refugees, she had time to go to the United States Embassy and apply for a visa. Why didn’t she apply for asylum at that time?
Processing a visa takes time and raises the question of how much eminent danger an asylum seeker is actually in. It also raises questions of what asylum seekers declare as the reason for coming to the United States. Once Ainan arrived in this country, she made her real intentions known by applying for asylum. Since when does threatening by a family member rise to a reason to be granted asylum in this country?
Ainan also writes “we are not ‘illegal aliens’—those words are hurtful.” Well, hurtful or not, she was an illegal alien. But I will tell you what is hurtful and definitely uncaring about those coming to Lewiston and seeking asylum: they came to the poorest city in Maine.
In order to keep city government above water, our property tax rates are one of the highest in Maine. Many of our elderly are on fixed incomes. Each year they have a hard time paying for food, medicine, heat and the taxes levied on their homes—homes they worked all their lives to own. Now they fear that if they are unable to pay their tax bill, they may be forced out onto the street.
We have American families struggling and needing our city’s help to survive. We have plenty of people to care for.
Caring is not a one-way street. It runs both ways.