First, a correction.
In my latest letter to Gov. Paul LePage, on Sunday, I referred to Devon Raymond as “a Jamaican lad you adopted in 2002 at the age of 17.”
I was wrong. LePage may call Raymond “my adopted son,” love him like an “adopted son” and pay his college tuition like an “adopted son,” but it turns out Raymond, now 25, is not and never has been the governor’s “adopted son.”
So what is he?
Well, that depends on how you look at it.
By Jamaican standards, Raymond is one lucky young dude.
Since he arrived in Maine in 2002, he has graduated from Waterville High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Grambling State University in Louisiana, worked briefly as a golf pro in North Carolina and begun studying for a master’s in business administration at the University of Louisiana in Monroe – all, we are told, on the LePage family’s nickel.
By political standards, Raymond has become one heckuva flak deflector.
Almost in the same breath that LePage told the NAACP last week to “kiss my butt” after the organization expressed its disappointment that he declined repeated invitations to meet with members, the governor invoked “my son (who) happens to be black” to prove he’s as racially tolerant as the next guy.
That well may be.
But this latest question mark over the LePage clan (see: wife’s dual property tax exemptions; daughter’s job in governor’s office) is nothing if it isn’t ironic.
Just two weeks ago, in his first full day as governor, LePage signed an executive order effectively ending a prohibition on state workers asking people across the counter about their immigration status.
So, in the spirit of full disclosure, dare we ask about the immigration status of the governor’s not-really-adopted son?
“He’s on a student visa,” replied a noticeably terse Dan Demeritt, LePage’s communications director, on Monday.
Got it. And what does that mean?
According to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Services website, it means a couple of things:
First, a student visa holder must “have a residence abroad, with no immediate intention of abandoning that residence.”
Second, a student visa holder must “intend to depart from the United States upon completion of the course of study.”
We now move to the state of Maine’s website– specifically, the page that introduces our new First Family. There, we find a photo of the governor, his wife, their biological son and daughter and, last but not least, Devon Raymond.
We also find this statement: “Governor Paul R. LePage and First Lady Ann LePage are honored to be the 74th First Family of the State of Maine. They have five adult children, Lindsay, Lisa, Lauren, Paul and Devon.”
Lindsay and Lisa, the governor’s children by a previous marriage, live in Canada.
But what about Raymond? Does he, as required by immigration law, still have a residence in Jamaica that he has “no immediate intention of abandoning?”
“Devon maintains regular contact with his Jamaican family where a residence is maintained,” Demeritt replied in an e-mail.
(Now there’s an interesting choice of words – essentially Demeritt is saying that Raymond’s biological family isn’t homeless.)
And what about that required intention “to depart the United States upon completion of the course of study?”
“Devon works closely with an immigration attorney and intends to comply with all the legal requirements of his student visa upon completion of his studies,” wrote Demeritt, adding, “This concludes my cooperation on this matter.”
(For the record, Demeritt also revealed that Raymond had a 12-month “optional practical training visa” while he worked as a golf pro between his undergraduate and graduate studies.)
The point of all this is not to make life miserable for Demeritt, who’s got to be waking up each morning wishing he could just pull the covers back up over his head and let the boss fend for himself for awhile.
Nor is it to suggest that Raymond is anything but a legal alien enjoying what millions of other young men around the world would walk on hot coals for – an all-expenses-paid education, up to and including a master’s degree, here in the United States.
Rather, this latest in LePage’s never-ending parade of awkward inconsistencies raises two issues – both well worth re-examining through the prism of Maine’s socially conservative, tea party-backed governor.
The first is that “noncitizen,” a hot-button phrase if ever there was one throughout Camp LePage, in reality can mean a lot of things.
It can, to be sure, mean someone who is in this country illegally.
It can also mean a refugee family living in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood who came to Maine for essentially the same reason as Devon Raymond – to build a happier, more prosperous life.
(Of course, when he was campaigning in the fall, LePage said that Bayside family should be here at least five years before they can apply for food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Perhaps, in the meantime, they could apply to become the governor’s “adopted cousins?”)
Put more simply, for those people who cheered so loudly when LePage said in his inaugural speech that “the programs in Maine need to focus on Maine residents,” Raymond should at least provide proof positive that “immigration” isn’t as black and white (pun intended) as the pundits on the right would have us believe.
The other issue – another hot button – is the meaning of “family.”
Before he stopped taking questions about Raymond, Demeritt went to considerable lengths to steer the story of LePage’s “son” away from all that cumbersome paperwork and toward something softer and gentler.
“Why can’t you come at it from the point of view that the LePage family has opened up their home to this young man, helped him with school, helped him with college and graduate school and made him part of the family?” asked Demeritt. “Why can’t that be the story?”
Because that story, like so much coming out of the governor’s office these days, raises more questions than it answers.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]