Between the lines of the Nov. 9 story about Sen. Michaud is a lesson for Lewiston residents about growth of the Somali population here.

Michaud is the first person with a Franco-American name to be elected to a major office in Maine — amazing with such a large Franco population. The reason would be familiar to any immigrant population in the U.S. during the last 150 years: discrimination.

That Franco-Americans were thought of as “”second class citizens”” in Maine is apparently only now beginning to change. And after how many decades? It is easy for us to forget the difficulties that our parents and grandparents had when they stepped off the boat.

The drain on the city’s finances needs to be sorted out. But this is a short-term difficulty. Confronting long-term population decline and difficulty with economic stimulus, Canada has welcomed immigration as a successful way of keeping its tax base at an adequate level. Perhaps welcoming a new population to Lewiston is in the long-term interests of the city.

The 1951 Geneva Convention gave standards for the treatment of refugees. These laws require that “”in the field of housing and jobs a refugee be treated at least as favorably as other nationals of a foreign country.””

The first generation of immigrants always has an enormous handicap in these areas. They have not been in the U.S. long enough to establish credit or accumulate capital toward their first house or apartment. This is something the rest of us started doing by accident when we were 16.

Immigrants and refugees, in particular, need access to the same resources and skills that the rest of us have taken for granted our entire lives — not because we are wealthy but because we were born here.

It is important to not use the newcomers as scapegoats for fiscal problems that persisted in Lewiston 50 years before the 1,000 refugees came here, and to reject today the same discrimination that kept a Michaud from becoming a senator 50 years ago.

Chad Garrett, Harpswell


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