The recent position about immigrants and refugees taken by Gov. Paul LePage and Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald illuminates one of those rare instances where local citizens get to see first-hand how inept federal policies affect their communities.

Let me say, categorically, this writing is not about being anti-immigrant or anti-refugee. This is about common sense and local government (state and municipal) autonomy.

The federal government has over-extended itself; it has allowed in more immigrants and refugees than it can safely process and pay for. Because of that, Gov. LePage has ordered that the state withdraw from the process of accepting more immigrants and refugees. Mayor Macdonald has added that Lewiston cannot afford it. They are both right.

What has been the impact of the refugee resettlement program on local communities? Over-burdening local resources (schools and social services primarily), increased risk of communicable illnesses and, yes, entry of persons hostile to the American way of life.

I don’t like having to say these things — neither does the governor nor the mayor — but it is a reality. The argument, of course, has been made that very sick or hostile persons coming to live here would be the rare exceptions, with the likelihood of those people impacting you being slim. Maybe so. But when the stakes are that high — and increased risks to your family’s health and security is the result — people want to err on the side of caution.

No risk — not 20 percent, not 1 percent — is worth it. And members of the public don’t want their government gambling on their behalf, when their health and security is the ante.

With the stakes so high and public sentiment one of disagreement, what is the common-sense thing for government officials to do? I believe the answer is to slow down the pace of the foreigners being allowed into the country; vet them properly and extensively to ensure public health and security — make sure it is safe and healthy to bring them into our communities.

The public does not want to hear, “Well, the odds are that nothing (fill-in-the-blank) will come of it, so it’s safe.” That’s not good enough. The public wants to know, before asylum-seekers and refugees are allowed into the country, that they are not a health or security risk. There is no public confidence in the federal vetting system. As Gov. LePage stated, the federal “vetting system is wholly inadequate.”

What has been the federal government’s response to the public demanding a stronger, more sure vetting process? Demand the citizen accept the program — as is — and foot the bill. Threaten states with loss of federal funding if they don’t comply.

What about those states who capitulate? Well, they demand local communities take on the burden, threatening them with the loss of state funds if they don’t comply. After all, federal dollars are involved, right? It will hurt the economy, or whatever other scary scenario is applicable at the time, if we don’t. A subtle form of coercion, but coercion nonetheless.

No government of free citizens should force policy by coercion. It’s downright un-American. However, since the federal government does, that means you, the citizen and taxpayer, have less to tend to your family priorities — which are important to you — because the federal government puts its priorities ahead of yours, while spending your money to do it. The federal government’s priorities, however misguided, ineptly pursued, or against the will of the public, come at your expense.

That is when Lewiston Mayor Macdonald, speaking of the refugee/asylum seeker predicament in Lewiston, said, “We cannot afford it.”

America is President Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” The Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants to the “golden door.” I get it. Americans get it. America is where immigrants have thrived. My grandfather was an immigrant. But it is also fair to ask the question, even in the “land of the free,” if America is taking in more people than the hope that exists in its promise to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe” can provide. It puts that promise at risk.

Taxpayers in Maine — and Lewiston — believe they have done their share. Someone needs to advocate for them. Maine families and Lewiston families should not be forced to choose between the needs of their own families and those the federal government has brought in, but cannot support — and that is the decision the federal government is forcing them to make. People resent it.

This is not about rejecting refugees and asylum seekers. It is about having a workable, common-sense plan that ensures the community that they can be hospitable without putting the security and health of their own families at risk.

Since the government is the people, government needs to listen.

Gov. Paul LePage and Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald are listening. They are taking a stand. I support them both and I stand with them. Mainers should not be footing the bill for misguided or poorly planned federal policies — and that is exactly what the refugee resettlement program is.

Tim Lajoie is Lewiston City Councilor for Ward 2.


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