Join Me in Welcoming Newcomers

I spend most of my time in Knox County, but since my votes in the Senate affect the entire state, I also like to get out and see other parts of Maine. This month, I got up to Allagash to check out Sen. Troy Jackson’s neck of the woods.

On my way home, I was headed down Interstate 95 when federal Border Patrol agents stopped me and asked if I was an American. Appalled by the entire situation, I kept the conversation brief, and they ultimately told me I was free to go. I drove away, feeling not as free as I had been before. Freedom requires no verification by a federal agent.

This incident left me thinking about events around the country, and how they impact us here in Maine.

Unless you’re Native American, you or one of your ancestors arrived in this country as a migrant. So let’s not act like this country is only for those already here. Tragically, the shooter who drove over 10 hours to kill Latino people in El Paso didn’t understand that. He believed newcomers from Latin America not only pose some kind of threat, but are inferior to white people. White supremacy — employed to justify genocide against Native Americans, slavery and segregation — is being employed to target Latino folks today.

The policies and actions aimed at the Latino community — building a border wall, separating families, deporting people and now shooting them at a Walmart in El Paso — are rooted in the belief that if we reserve our communities for those already here, particularly white people, the world will be a better place. It won’t. Some folks in Maine believe that we shouldn’t help people who are arriving here from Africa or Latin America, but should, for reasons beyond my comprehension, help only those already living in Maine. By when and from where must you have moved to Maine, of course, is never clear.

These policies and beliefs are based in fear — fear of those who look different, come from other places or speak with different accents. And so we must remember that we (or our ancestors, unless you’re Native American) were those people once too. We looked different, we came from other places and spoke with different accents. The transition wasn’t easy, but we undertook the journey to America because of hope — hope of a better life, more freedom and greater opportunities for our kids. The folks undertaking that journey today are escaping violence that most of us can’t imagine, yet they face the prospect of further violence and intimidation when they arrive. The fact that they are continuing to travel here, in spite of our often unwelcoming policies, reassures us that hope — the same hope that brought us to this country — is still alive today.

I represent everyone in Knox County and fight for policies that benefit all folks in Maine. I don’t care what you look like, where you’re from or what’s on your birth certificate or passport. Inclusive policies strengthen our communities, address our workforce shortage and help those in need.

We must stand up for our neighbors and speak out against any policy that is unwelcoming to anyone, including the federal policy of stopping folks on the interstate and asking if they’re American. Border Patrol agents can stop anyone within a 100-mile radius of the U.S. border, an area that includes all of Maine. If you are stopped by Border Patrol agents, you have the right to remain silent and can tell agents that you’ll only answer questions in the presence of an attorney, regardless of your immigration status.

Let’s welcome newcomers, listen to their stories and celebrate their cultures. If we were in their shoes, that’s the reception for which we’d hope. 

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