Skip to comments.Officials meet with Somalis to boost ties
Posted on 10/12/2002 1:49:10 AM PDT by sarcasm
A request for a federal review of Lewiston's programs and services for Somalis and other immigrants will be filed sometime next week, according to the advocate who will be writing the formal complaint to the Justice Department.
Kathy Poulos-Minott, who heads a Portland-based group that advocates for the rights of people who speak limited English, said the complaint would focus on issues such as lack of training for city employees and inconsistencies in policies and procedures across departments.
"You can't have one policy at one department and then no policy at another department," said Poulos-Minott, founder and director of the National Limited English Proficient Advocacy Task Force. "There has to be consistency and training. These places always assure compliance on paper. That's simple. The reality is when you get out there and you test it. Is it really happening?"
Lewiston city officials met with Somali elders Thursday at the public library to try to mend fences after a letter from Mayor Laurier Raymond angered and offended the local Somali community last week. The letter, referring to an increased flow of Somali immigrants into Lewiston, asked the local Somali community to "exercise some discipline and reduce the stress on our limited finances and generosity."
The Lewiston police chief and other police officials attended the meeting, as well as two city councilors, Roger Philippon and Renee Bernier. Several Somali elders were present, including some who typically work with city officials through the Somali advisory committee.
"The meeting was very encouraging, but there's more work to be done," said Phil Nadeau, assistant city administrator.
The Somali elders who attended the meeting had no comment as they left the library.
Winston McGill, vice president of the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he met with a Somali elder Thursday and pledged the organization's support. He also has written an open letter of support to the Somali community that will be delivered next week.
The New England conference of the NAACP, which represents all of the region's NAACP branches, also has pledged its support.
McGill said he spoke with officials at the Justice Department in Boston on Thursday to voice his concerns directly to the federal agency. He asked for a community liaison who could act as a mediator between the city of Lewiston and the Somali community.
"It's not really so much an investigation," he said. "What that community liaison will do is they'll bring everybody to the table and work out these issues, whether it's housing or jobs - what the mayor should have done and what he didn't do."
McGill said it's "too premature" to say his organization will support the effort by Poulos-Minott to have a federal review of Lewiston's programs and services.
Poulos-Minott's group represents 300 "stakeholders" nationwide. They are primarily legal organizations dedicated to supporting the anti-discrimination laws that ensure immigrants and refugees have access to interpreters and other services that put them on equal footing in schools, hospitals and the halls of city government.
"Many schools bring unqualified interpreters, if they bring any at all, into disciplinary hearings or school-based health care," she said. "They take medical histories, they dispense medication without interpreters."
Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin through statutes such as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Poulos-Minott said her organization tries to work with recipients of federal funding before filing a federal complaint or pursuing litigation. In the past, she has fought Maine Medical Center over the quality of its interpreter services, and she has cases pending against the Maine Department of Human Services, the Portland Housing Authority and Catholic Charities Maine.
She said Lewiston did not adequately plan for the arrival of so many Somalis into the community.
Nadeau said putting programs and services in place for the new arrivals has involved "almost heroic levels of work."
"We want to do more than just meet the marginal need," he said. "If there are places that we need to make improvements, we try to identify those areas as quickly as possible and try to be responsive to those areas and make those adjustments that we need to make."
Right. They should have a contingency plan for every ethnic group that plans to flood their city.
Re: Your letter dated October 1, 2002.
Somalis in Lewiston.
This letter is in response to your above referenced letter in regard to the move of Somali refugees/immigrants to the city of Lewiston. First of all, with due respect, we would like to indicate that your letter is not only untimely but is also inflammatory and disturbing, to say the least. Your letter is untimely because it is written and released at a time when the movement of Somalis to Lewiston has naturally dropped and as per records no Somali moved to Lewiston since the end of August 2002. The letter is also inflammatory and disturbing as we are dismayed to see such a letter from an elected official and leader who is supposed to show good leadership, co-existence and harmony among the residents of this humble city.
We react to your letter in mixed feelings ranging from dismay, astonishment and anger. This is because of the fact that you have never given us a chance to meet with you and discuss our future plans with you during your term in office. Your predecessor Mayor Kalleigh Tara perfectly understood us and was working with us as new additions to a city where she was the mayor. We also had and were given opportunities to meet with and discuss our future with elected and non-elected local and state officials. Most recently, such meeting included those we had with Governor Angus King on September 17 and with the gubernatorial candidate, Congressman John Baldacci on September 27th, among others.
During all such meetings, the officials indicated their satisfaction with our coming to live here in the state, they say, is sparsely populated and need to attract more residents as both manpower and future electorates. Those officials, after listening to us, applauded our efforts to try and "Fit in" as much as we can. While we have had contacts with other leaders as stated above, you have never given us a chance to meet and explain ourselves to you. The first contact, which you ever had with us, is through your recent letter, which prompted this response; something which we never thought, would happen and feel unwarranted at this time.
For your information therefore, our coming to Lewiston and living here have revitalized this city in certain ways. Our presence has turned Lewiston into a multi-ethnic, multi-racial city, which has embraced diversity and change. A city of thirty-six thousand people, in the middle of the "whitest" state in the country has suddenly become an international city. Lewiston's name appeared in papers and news clips around the country. We portrayed the facts about this place and its humble people who we consider, by and large, as generous Americans who understand our plight and are ready to help in our initial days of settling down. Our presence here have also attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal funds to boost existing social services for all residents of Lewiston. This particular point was not stated in your letter.
Apartment units located in the Lewiston downtown area which were abandoned many years ago, were suddenly refurbished and made livable as the arrival of Somalis generated funds and put money in the pockets of landlords. This also raised the market value of real estate. Somalis were hired to work in businesses and plants making them to be able to contribute to the local economy as taxpayers. Back in April 2002, there were 249 able-bodied Somali men and women who could work, Forty people worked at the time. Today out of the 416 able bodied men and women 215 persons are currently employed. This is over 50% of adults who could work. Also, there are three Somali businesses in Lewiston which opened in less than a year.
While we thank the city of Lewiston, and the general public for their understanding and accepting us in their midst, we would nevertheless like to bring to your attention and to the attention of others in your line of thinking, that we are citizens and/or legal residents of this country. Although we originally hail from the Eastern African state of Somalia, we renounced our Somali citizenship and taken U.S. citizenship. Over 80% of our children are Americans by birth. Therefore, we believe we have every right to live anywhere in this country. So do other Somalis or any other legal residents who choose to come and live in Lewiston or in Alaska for that matter.
In view of the above, and with due respect we consider your letter Mr. Mayor, as the writing of ill-informed leader who is bent towards bigotry. Therefore, by a copy of this letter we ask both the state government and law enforcement to guarantee our safety here. If any harm inform of an attack happens to any Somali-American man, woman or child in the wake of your letter, we hold you squarely responsible for any such acts. We think your letter is an attempt to agitate and incite the local people and a license to violence against our people physically, verbally and emotionally.
Hope this is clear and let God show all of us what is right.
Elders of the Somali Community.
CC: Office of Governor Angus King
William Welch, Lewiston Police Chief
Lewiston/Auburn Community Task Force
Pierrot Rugaba, State Refugee Coordinator
Jim Bennet, Administrator: City of Lewiston
For your information therefore, our coming to Lewiston and living here have revitalized this city in certain ways
Revitalized the welfare population?
LEWISTON, Maine (AP) Maine's economic development chief warned that friction with its Somali population could create an image problem for the city.
''I hope everyone can resolve their issues soon,'' Commissioner Steven Levesque of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development said Thursday.
''This does have the potential of negatively impacting the perception that these communities have worked so hard to gain.''
In a recent letter, Lewiston Mayor Larry Raymond asked Somalis in Lewiston to urge their friends and family not to come to Lewiston because its resources were being stretched to the limit.
On Wednesday, members of the Somali community and a coalition of advocacy groups said they planned to file a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, seeking a federal review of Lewiston's programs and services to ensure that they do not discriminate on the basis of national origin.
According to Raymond, the city of 36,000 has had an influx of more than 1,000 Somalis in 18 months.
Levesque said how the city absorbs the newcomers could affect its future.
''Any type of business looks at the community,'' Levesque said. ''They look at the stability of the communities. How do communities handle change? Are they willing to accept differences? The private sector looks at those issues.''
Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe this week circulated hundreds of copies of a letter pledging that his office would ''strive to ensure that Maine is a safe, tolerant and respectful place for everyone to live.''
Rowe's office said the letters were delivered to Somali elders in Lewiston and to places in the area where Somalis gather.
''I am writing to let you know how important you are to our Maine community,'' Rowe wrote in part.
''Please know that the vast, vast majority of Maine residents want you to feel welcome and safe. We welcome you as fellow citizens and residents and we want you to know that you are a valued part of our communities and our state,'' Rowe wrote.
''Members of the office of the attorney general will do everything within our power to work with local law enforcement officials to ensure that the civil rights of all Maine residents are protected.''