WATERVILLE — I attended state Rep. Lawrence Lockman’s University of Southern Maine talk on “Alien Invasion” last week, not because I agree with his position, but because I don’t.

I have spent a decade studying the impact of immigration and refugee resettlement in Maine. I’ve written on the importance of refugee resettlement programs, the benefits to Maine of welcoming immigrants, the positive economic impact of refugees on Maine and the forms of solidarity and support that immigrant communities build.

I believe Maine should welcome immigrants and refugees, but Lockman views immigrants as a threat and a financial burden. His recent and forthcoming legislation punishes Portland for failing to require police officers to ask the citizenship status of those with whom they come in contact and holds Catholic Charities accountable for any crimes committed by refugees they have resettled. He supports the recent executive orders to halt immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugee resettlement. The legislator seems terrified of immigrants, and I wanted to try to understand why.

Here’s what I learned.

Most of Lockman’s speech recounted various acts by immigrants that harmed or might have harmed Americans: the two Iraqi men in Bowling Green, Kentucky, found guilty of attempting to provide weapons to al-Qaida in Iraq; the two immigrant men who passed through Maine before leaving the country to join the Islamic State; the three men who may have been immigrants who beat Freddy Akoa to death in Portland; the 9/11 hijackers.

Listening to the enumeration of these tragic but unconnected events, I struggled to follow the logic. Should the U.S. bar immigrants because some might become radicalized after immigrating? Should all immigration be halted because some immigrants commit crimes? Is Lockman suggesting that immigrants have a tendency toward radicalization or criminality?


I agree that it’s important for government to provide safety and security for residents. But I cannot understand Lockman’s insistence that U.S. citizens should fear immigrants because some may be dangerous. More Americans are killed by white extremists than by foreign-born terrorists. More Americans are killed by animal attacks or heat waves than by foreign-born terrorists. Americans are more likely to be killed in a shark attack, by a lightning strike or by falling furniture than by a foreign-born terrorist.

Immigrants do not commit crimes at higher rates than non-immigrants; in fact, all available evidence indicates immigrants commit fewer crimes and have lower rates of incarceration than non-immigrants. Lewiston offers a close-to-home example: Since Somali and other immigrants began moving there in 2001, crime rates have fallen. Immigrants, it seems, actually make cities safer, not more dangerous.

The other concern offered by Lockman was his view that taxes should not be used to support immigrants, illegal aliens or refugees. But residents who lack legal status cannot receive public assistance; resettled refugees receive support only for 90 days after resettling in the United States (after which they are expected to be self-sufficient), and the offer of public assistance to other legal immigrants is based on the presumption that because they have earned the right of admittance to the U.S., they are entitled to the same benefits as other citizens when they fall on hard times. The real issue is whether or not we wish to welcome newcomers into our society and offer them the same civil rights our ancestors fought hard to achieve.

I believe that the 2,000 migrants who work the blueberry harvest in Lockman’s home region every year should have access to the same public services – medical care, workplace safety, legal protections – available to their citizen co-workers. I believe the immigrants who overwhelmingly staff American restaurants, provide elder and child care, harvest and process food, clean homes and offices and much more, deserve exactly the same access to public services as their citizen neighbors, including assistance when they are injured, lose a job or experience a family emergency.

Denying immigrants access to public services when they are between jobs or have a crisis is not only inhumane, but also self-destructively short-sighted. Short-term investments in immigrants pay long-term dividends. Look at Lewiston’s Somali residents – who, within a decade of their arrival, are sending their children to medical, law and nursing schools, speaking before the United Nations, running successful businesses, winning state and national competitions and revitalizing farmland in central Maine.

In short, immigrants make American cities better, not worse, and Lockman’s fear-mongering cannot alter that simple, long-standing truth. Take a trip to Lewiston and see for yourself.

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