In 1908, a young Armenian fleeing Turkey arrived in America. He had little education or English. Officials struggled to understand his name, but he managed to convey that he worked as a barber. So the officials at Ellis Island gave the young man a new last name, Barberian (later changed to Barber), and let him enter to join a cousin in Portland, Maine.

Hagop, or Jack, as he came to be called, soon married Tzarig (Rose), the daughter of another Armenian immigrant family. Jack worked hard, eventually opening a barbershop near Portland’s Longfellow Square. Jack and Rose had four children. Life wasn’t easy, but he kept the family fed, housed and clothed.

One of their sons, Augustus, became a welder of Liberty Ships at the South Portland shipyard, before serving in the Army during World War II. After his discharge, Gus cut meat at a friend’s market, and later married. Gus and his wife, Marjorie, started Barber Beef and Poultry, which grew into Barber Foods.

I am one of the four children of Gus and Marjorie; we all went on to get bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and then to work at Barber Foods. Barber Foods has provided jobs for as many as 800 Portland-area residents at a time. With restructuring and automation, there are still 360 associates at the Portland facility now owned by Tyson Foods.

My wife and I have two sons, Jack and Max. During their summers off from college, they were on the vanguard of Portland’s food truck trend. They started with one Mainely Burgers truck at Scarborough Beach, and soon grew to three trucks. But Jack and Max dreamed bigger. They now also have two Mainely Burgers restaurants in Massachusetts and over 50 employees.

My paternal grandparents, Jack and Rose, were courageous and hardworking, full of grit, determination and dreams of safety and opportunity for themselves and future generations.


These are the same qualities that the many immigrants working with Barber Foods and Mainely Burgers, and immigrants throughout Maine and the United States possess. But when they first arrived they didn’t have money, or English, or much education, and they certainly didn’t have private health insurance.

It’s a good thing they came here when they did. A proposed new regulation would deny residency to aspiring immigrants, especially immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have certain “negative factors,” including lacking English, or a high school degree or better, or private health insurance.

Only having a household income higher than 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines would overcome the “negative factors.” In 2018, that is nearly $63,000 for a family of four. Half of U.S. households don’t have incomes that high. This proposed rule would effectively allow just the already well educated and well off to immigrate, violating our values and ignoring centuries of immigrant success based on effort, and maybe a little luck. Nationwide, researchers have found, first-generation immigrants and refugees or their children founded or co-founded over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and 55 percent of startups valued at $1 billion or more.

The rule would also cut immediate family immigration to the United States by about half, dividing families and drastically reducing current immigration levels – a bad move from both a humane and an economic perspective.

As our population ages and birth rates decline, we need more immigrants, not fewer, to keep our communities and our economy vibrant. Without family immigration, Maine would have had net population loss from 2010 to 2016. The proposed rule incorrectly assumes that immigrants who have little will take from, not give to the country. Had it been in effect when my grandfather Jack landed at Ellis Island with only his trade and his cousin’s information, he would never have been allowed in to America.

Instead, this nation welcomed Jack Barber. Despite his modest beginnings, he certainly contributed to his new home. Jack’s story mirrors that of millions of other ordinary, yet so extraordinary, immigrants, past and present.

Placing the dream of opportunity, safety, a better life and family unity at the center of our immigration policies has served this country, and Maine, well. America should not start imposing new wealth, education, insurance, and income requirements on aspiring immigrants now.

The government is accepting public comments on the proposed rule change through midnight on Dec. 10 at I will be commenting to oppose the rule. Please join me.

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