FREEPORT — Controversy around immigration is nothing new. We are a country and a state built on the backs of immigrants, yet we have long resisted immigration.

The immigrants once targeted by “Irish need not apply” signs made Portland a thriving port as longshoremen and stevedores. The Franco-American children once punished for speaking French at school are now leaders in business and, yes, politics.

Though we could have moved forward, learned from this, it seems we have not.

We now find ourselves engaged in a shameful argument, part of a rising tide of isolationism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Today, human beings – who are legally in the United States seeking asylum from war and persecution – are being abused as pawns for political propaganda and we, as Americans and Mainers, our turning our backs on our shared history and the struggles of our own ancestors.

My father emigrated as a 24-year-old physician from India. He tells me often how he fell in love with this country, with democracy and with my mother. What allowed him, ultimately, to stay, to marry his love and raise four girls in the United States was the feeling of welcome.

But now my father tells me that if he were to arrive in this nation today, he does not know if he would stay. He is not certain that he would feel welcomed as he was 60 years ago.

When he tells me this, I wonder also about my grandmother. Orphaned at age 4 in the Armenian Genocide, she slowly made her way to America as a 16-year-old young woman. How would we treat her if she arrived here today? So many of us have stories like this.

Our own governor focuses on denying help to asylum seekers as he calls on legislators to deliver tax breaks to the wealthiest residents of Maine. A thousand new Mainers – asylum seekers he denigrates as “illegals” – are on the brink of homelessness.

These are men, women and children fleeing death and persecution. They are human beings who enrich our culture, create new businesses and add color – literally – to our lives. They are here legally but are prohibited from working by federal law while their cases are processed.

A Superior Court ruling that bolsters Gov. LePage’s efforts to deny assistance to asylum seekers was touted as a “major win for the administration” by Department of Health and Human Services spokesman David Sorensen. But how can the denial of shelter, food and medical care to people fleeing war and persecution be a “win” in any sense?

We cannot forget who we are and where we come from because, truthfully, we are all immigrants or their descendants. We should all ask ourselves: If our ancestors had been treated the way we are now treating new Mainers, who would we be now?

Immigrants are a critical part of Maine’s economic success, now and in the future. And we need that badly.

We know from any number of measures that Maine’s economy needs a boost. Maine ranks 47th in economic output, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, for example, and we lag behind the rest of the New England states. Maine’s “relatively stagnant population growth contributes to slow-growing output figures,” according to the report.

Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and the median age here is rising faster than in the other 49 states. This trend is reflected in our workforce and in figures like these: Thirty-seven percent of the manufacturing workforce at Bath Iron Works is over 55.

So instead of sputtering political rhetoric against survivors of war, genocide, rape and persecution, Maine should welcome these new arrivals.

Instead of disingenuously complaining about their arrival, the governor should put pressure on the federal government to expedite the asylum process.

Instead of figuratively closing Maine’s borders to new arrivals, we should all open the doors – and our arms – to our new neighbors and the health of our economy.

If the past is any indicator of what’s to come, Maine newest immigrants will be the engine that re-establishes our manufacturing workforce and rebuilds our economy.