Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

EDITORIAL: Fighting xenophobia

Personal connection is the best defense against those who would divide us

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It seems in every generation we have politicians willing to score political points by demonizing immigrants or the vulnerable of one form or another. Older residents who’ve lived on the Iron Range their whole lives may still remember when new immigrants fleeing war and poverty in places like Italy, Finland, or Ireland were subjected to the same kind of demonization as President Trump directs today against the desperate families fleeing those same circumstances in places like Honduras, Guatemala, or Syria.

One other group that has been targeted for some time, particularly here in Minnesota, are the Somali and other East Africa refugees who have made Minnesota their home after fleeing civil war and famine in their home countries. For Minnesotans, particularly those of who live in rural enclaves of whiteness, these new immigrants can appear foreign, maybe even frightening. And those are the emotions that some seek to exploit and inflame.

Building familiarity and friendship is the best way to fight back. And that’s why a continuing effort by Paul Winkelaar and Mike VanKeulen and members of the Somali community and residents of the Tower-Soudan area has been so valuable (see story page B1). Late last month, for the second year in a row, about 30 members of the Twin Cities Somali community put aside their own fears and misunderstanding of rural Minnesotans and ventured north to visit the Soudan Mine and meet and enjoy a meal with residents of the area. The most recent event was a potluck dinner at the Tower Civic Center and featured a wide range of Somali and Ethiopian dishes alongside the usual wild rice hotdish, sarmas, and other staples of Iron Range cuisine.

The event included ethnic music and a discussion of the history of Somali and Ethiopian unrest that pushed many in the Horn of Africa to leave their homes. That discussion was led by Abdisalam Adam, an assistant principal at Highland Park school in St. Paul.

The evening was engaging, thrilling, and heartwarming all at the same time, as barriers fell away instantly. There were stories and laughter and friendships made. Many had come to Tower-Soudan last year and were back to reconnect with friends they had made before and to lead a host of first-time visitors to the area. The Somali visitors were gracious, accomplished, and eager to learn more about life in rural Minnesota. Many had grown up in the vast hinterlands of Somalia or Ethiopia, farming and raising livestock and the possibility of returning to their agricultural roots still sparks a real interest for some of them.

The reality of their lives and their hopes and ambitions stands in stark contrast to the portrayal we too often see from those who want to exploit our unfamiliarity and fear. The Somalis and Ethiopians, as a community, are intelligent, hard-working, entrepreneurial, and, like most new immigrants, place tremendous value on education, which they recognize as the path to a better future for the next generation. They have already had a positive impact on the economy of the Twin Cities and other communities in the state where they have relocated in significant numbers and they are laying the groundwork for even greater success. And one of their own, Ilhan Omar, who was among the group that came to Tower-Soudan last year, was elected Tuesday to the U.S. Congress, representing Minnesota’s Fifth District.

Neal Kashkari, an economist who heads the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, calls immigration “the closest thing to a free lunch” for the country as you can find in America, and the East African diaspora who have made Minnesota their home are proof of that.

People don’t come to the U.S. to live on welfare, as some people falsely claim. That’s just myth propagated to divide people. They come to build a brighter future and they are willing to work hard to achieve it for themselves and their children. They work, they start businesses, and they contribute to the economy and to the vibrancy of our communities. Despite the virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from the White House in the lead-up to last Tuesday’s general election, immigration has and, hopefully will always be, one of the leading factors behind America’s continued economic success.

Comments

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Scott Atwater

Immigration is a a conversation that we all need to have. While I agree with a large percentage of this particular editorial, I am baffled as to why the writer made the decision to attack President Trump in the first and last paragraphs. The writer is conflating illegal immigration with legal immigration by stating that Trump is demonizing immigrants. Need I point out that Melania Trump is an immigrant?

Truth be told, the overwhelming majority of Americans welcome legal immigrants. I think that most Americans also realize that we can't have open borders and allow large caravans containing disproportionate numbers of military aged men to cross our southern border at will. This is what the so-called " anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from the White House in the lead-up to last Tuesday’s general election" was really about.

The far left is calling for open borders, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and the abolishment of ICE. The chaos and danger that results from this simplistic philosophy is rejected by most Americans.

Let's start having honest discussions about immigration, rather than using the issue for political gain on both sides of the isle. Legal immigrants deserve better.

The following quote was a good start, maybe my Democrat friends on the left can explain the reversal on this approach:

“Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made -- putting more boots on the Southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship -- a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.” (President Barack Obama, Remarks At State Of The Union, Washington, D.C., 2/12/13)

Saturday, November 10
Shaking my head

I agree 100% Scott. I like Australia’s rules for immigration. You must have a skill that they need, and that is in demand. You also must adapt to Australia’s culture and learn the language. I see no rational reason to allow 3rd world, uneducated, nearly unemployable people into the country. Assimilation is difficult if not impossible, and the dependence on unearned entitlements is a given.

3 days ago
jtormoen

Well, editorial writer ... you tried

2 days ago