Who uplifts their neighbors?

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

A couple of years ago, I wrote a “What if” about Jefferson being attacked by an enemy, and what I would do if I lived through the attack and into the occupancy by a hostile army.
Would I go along because of fear of torture, imprisonment, death? Or the threat of any of these to my loved ones? Despite consequences, would I join the resistance, set up a printing press in my basement and bomb Eureka Bridge as a convoy crossed it?

One never knows, faced with horrible choices, what one will do. And we in the U.S., with our only declared war on native soil being one we inflicted on ourselves, believe that nothing will ever happen to us because we are the new chosen people: never occupied by hostile forces (see above); never refugees on the run (read on).
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My latest “What if” –

If I were a refugee running from murder, rape, starvation – the brutality of my fellow humans – what would I do if the country I ran to refused to offer me safety?

If I were Syrian, would I have trekked all the way to Hungary for relief?

If I were Honduran, would I walk across the Sonoran Desert to escape to the U.S?

If I had to flee Iowa because of a murderous army destroying everything I knew, I figure I’d head to Canada. But what if the Prime Minister ordered the border protected by Mounties who politely said, “Hit the road”? Where would I go?

If I lived in Florida, would I get in a boat and row to Cuba, where they would say to me, “Are you kidding?”
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In the current massive migrant movement across the globe (a 2013 estimate of 232 million is considered on the low side of fact), refugees are not always met in humane ways. But there remain people and places of welcoming kindness and compassion.

On June 20, I read online a story from two National Public Radio outlets – Texas and Maine – who were reporting on 500 migrants allowed through the border town of Del Rio, TX. After weeks of waiting in line on the Mexican side, some of these 500 were at the end of a longer than usual trek of fleeing militias and civil unrest. About half of them were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo [two different countries] and Angola.

Surprisingly, these Africans somehow got the money to fly to South America or Central America, an expensive escape route, in order to begin their desperate dream of applying for asylum in the U.S. They trekked north across mountains, rivers and desert with kids on their backs and little food. They waited at our border. After several weeks, they were let across by our government and eventually sent to a far-away sanctuary city – Portland, Maine.

Portland has established a sizeable community of African immigrants, which I find surprising, as well as commendable. But I’m confused by this report because so much of what I hear is that foreigners seeking safety at our southern border are withering away on the Mexican side.

Whatever is going on in our country, in the central African Congo, 4.5 million people have been displaced by violence in the last five years. The ones who recently made it here to the U.S. were let in on the southern border and sent to a place on our northern border they never dreamed existed. What one of them said, however, was that he had dreamed of America’s human rights.

That in itself is encouraging, that we still have that reputation regarding the dignity of humankind. All of it.

Maine’s Governor Janet Mills said, “There are those who might want to make it political. I don’t see it that way…. It is a humanitarian issue. The broader community of the people of the state of Maine are going to be lending a hand and helping these people who are in such dire need. They call upon us, and we will be there for them.”

One Congolese, an English speaker who made it with his wife and their four little children, was eager to tell the reporter exactly what he thought about where he’d been set down. “Paradise,” he said.
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I didn’t know where I’d go in my “What if” scenario of having to seek asylum. But it’s apparent now that there’s a place that understands we’re all in this together: Perhaps I’d head for the Mainiacs, because they say about themselves that they have a history, “a proud tradition of caring for our neighbors.”

We’re all neighbors. And my whole day changes when I am reminded.

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