By G. Michael Dobbs
There were several moments during the press conference in which refugee and immigrant advocates responded to the pleas to federal authorities recently made by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno to put the city on a moratorium as a destination for refugees that struck me last week.
Full disclosure: my wife is a legal immigrant and our foster daughter is a refugee, so this issue is of great importance to me.
At one point the numbers of recent refugees/immigrants was sited for both West Springfield and Springfield, with the greatest number being in West Springfield – the point being that Springfield doesn’t have the highest concentration of newcomers.
It’s not about numbers, though. All refugees/immigrants are not created equal, a point that no one made – perhaps it sounds politically incorrect.
There are tremendous differences between people who are adults or children, single people or families, those who can speak English or those you can’t, people who come from a country with shared cultures with the United States and those who don’t, as well as those people who have skills that could mean finding work easier than those who have few or no skills.
Compare someone who might be coming from South America – according to the census the highest number of immigrants to the Bay State is from Brazil – to someone coming form a refugee camp in Africa. What services would they need to adapt to life in Massachusetts?
The problem isn’t about numbers. The problem is about what services are needed. Each person and his or her story are different.
Our foster daughter was a boat person from Vietnam, who was accompanied by an older cousin in her escape. She spent several years in refugee camps, first in Malaysia and then in the Philippines before she and her cousin were brought to Springfield through a program operated by the diocese.
Her cousin left for California and she was alone. We became her foster parents. We did so without any monetary compensation and little to no organizational support. We learned as we went along.
The differences in culture and expectations when coupled with the challenges of caring for a teenager made for a pretty demanding experience, but the outcome certainly justified what we went through. Our foster daughter is a successful business owner, happily married and we have three wonderful grandchildren.
Our foster daughter’s experience though was quite different than other Vietnamese refugees in the city because she lived with an American couple. That is my point here. The experiences of immigrants and refugees are impossible to see just through statistics.
I cannot stress enough the importance of some sort of support for immigrants and refugees. Considering how difficult life can be here in our area in terms of employment for citizens, can you imagine what it must be like for people with limited knowledge of English or few translatable job skills?
Make no mistake – I’m all for accepting refugees and immigrants. They are the lifeblood of this nation.
What I hope to see, though, is a greater effort by the organizations that sponsor these new arrivals to make sure they take responsibility for making sure they are in safe housing, their children are getting the special attention they need, they are learning English and getting vocational education as well.
This is not the country that many of our ancestors found in the 19th or 20th century. While in many, many ways it was a much harder place, it was also someplace where opportunities to find a job was easier. If we are a more compassionate society today, we must recognize a greater responsibility to the people we bring to our shores to make sure the American dream is not a hollow promise.
Say it ain’t so, Scott
Scott Brown has officially jumped the shark. If our former senator really wanted to serve the Commonwealth I would expect an announcement that he would run for governor.
He would have a good chance of winning, too.
Instead he has toyed publically with a run for the Senate in New Hampshire where he and his wife own a home and now he told the Boston Herald he is considering a run for the presidency.
He said to the Herald, “I want to get an indication of whether there’s even an interest, in Massachusetts and throughout the country, if there’s room for a bi-partisan problem solver.”
You’ve got to be kidding me, Scott.
Stick to home. Run for an office you can win. Serve the people and build a legacy of accomplishment. Then see if the nation wants you.
Ego is a terrible thing.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.