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20 June 2005

Bienvenido a America (Danbury Connecticut style)

When the Mayor of Lewiston, Maine said all the city's recent problems were the fault of the new influx of Somali immigrants, and publicly asked Somali immigrants to stop coming to live in Lewiston, some Real Americans wanted to show their support for the Mayor's belief system. So the White Supremacists caravaned up to Lewiston and threw a parade down Main Street. (Lewiston stuff at bottom.)

Don't know if the Danbury News-Times will print my letter, or will break its asshat 300-word maximum LTE rule, but their website is so you can keep checking. (Almost always, they phone the author first to verify that he/she really wrote the letter).

If you are American, or Bulgarian, or Canadian, or Helvetian, or Lusitanian, or Antarctican, or Vleeptronian, Please Leave a Comment. If you wish to use words like asshat or merda, please feel perfectly free to do so.

Ditto your letters to the editor of The News-Times. Don't be shy if you're in another country or another continent. Bob bothers overseas newspapers ALL the time, and sometimes the overseas and overtrees newspapers like Bob's letters and print them -- Dublin, Sydney, Toronto, even Vancouver BC Canada! Everybody loves Bob's letters to the editor.

{ [ ( o ) ] }

Ms. Mary T. Connolly, Editorial Page Editor
The News-Times

Dear Ms. Connolly,

I respectfully ask to let my letter to the editor run longer than 300 words.

I believe the letter reflects an unpleasant but very important experience I had this weekend in Danbury, and that experience reflects very important things to all your readers. I did not know know how to write my thoughts more briefly than this.

Or please consider this as an op-ed submission which might appropriately run to this length. As a letter or as a column, I believe your readers will want to talk about the issues it raises.

In any case, thanks for making "Cops to remain cops" the top story of your 18 June issue.

Please telephone or e-mail if you have any questions or wish to discuss my request.

Thank you very much,

Bob Merkin


Sunday 19 June 2005

Letters to the Editor
The News-Times

To the Editor:

When he tried to deputize Connecticut State Police officers to "round up the usual suspects" -- illegal immigrants -- Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton spat on my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, and desecrated the memories of the great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents of tens of thousands of Danbury's citizens.

I was just passing through your attractive, interesting, hospitable city, staying at a Danbury inn when I read "Cops to remain cops" (18 June). Suddenly my pleasant stay was changed to disgust, and the only thing that kept me happy to be here was the firm and clear reply of Connecticut Department of Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle to Mayor Boughton's vile request.

Condensed and accurately paraphrased, Commissioner Boyle said: The State Police have better things to do.

My ancestors who fled Russia to come to America were kikes. Commissioner Boyle's were, I imagine, micks, and part of America's welcome to them a century ago were these frequent insults of ethnic, religious and racial hate.

My ancestors fled the brutal oppression of the Czar and his Cossacks; Commissioner Boyle perhaps can trace his family's flight to America to the Potato Famine, mass starvation wed to hopelessness and London's unjust and bigoted rule.

My ancestors worked their fingers to the bone to succeed in America and make a better life for their children, and history could not be clearer that Commissioner Boyle's ancestors broke their backs, too. As they sought jobs or a simple restaurant meal, they often passed windows with these signs: "NO DOGS OR IRISHMEN."

As I wandered around my inn in the depth of the night, I encountered the silent women, wearing latex gloves to give them some protection against biohazards, who cleaned the hotel's toilets and urinals and vacuumed and polished the inn to its breakfast spotlessness. The pleasantries we exchanged briefly -- I knew how busy they were -- were in Spanish, their native tongue, my lousy high school remnants. I wondered who was caring for their children in the low-income housing Mayor Boughton hoped to purge some of them from.

They reminded me of my great-great-grandmother, and of the stories I'd heard from a friend about his Irish immigrant grandmother, who worked for decades as a housemaid, long before "minimum wage" or "40-hour-week" were in the American vocabulary. In her day, here was the Labor Law: We can fire you on a whim, and ten desperate immigrants will apply for your job by tonight.

I don't know where the Boughton family came from. I only know the Mayor of Danbury has a disgustingly short memory of their first decades on our shores.

In my room, I flipped through the Fairfield County phone book. Could Mayor Boughton possibly have discussed his plan to harrass and deport our latest wave of tired and poor with his neighbors O'Brien, O'Byrne, Nowacki, Nowakowski, Meyer, VanGessel, Saperstein, Schwartz, Tanaka, Schneider, Tartaglia and Santini? Could their family memories have been as short and pathetic as his? Did they all shake his hand, pat him on the back, and urge him to make the State Police raid workplaces and bang on apartment doors in pre-dawn raids as deputies for La Migra -- the dreaded federal immigration authorities?

As the deportee bus drives, New York Harbor isn't far from Danbury. Mayor Boughton's scheme -- blessedly rejected by Commissioner Boyle -- should have taken these tired, poor masses yearning to breathe free to Ellis Island as their last stop back to Central America and Southeast Asia from which they'd fled, so their last glimpse of America would be the Statue of Liberty.

My ancestors' first glimpse of America was the Statue of Liberty, with Emma Lazarus' poem at the base. But that was then. Mayor Boughton reminds us that this is now. And I am ashamed that this is now, and that now has come to this.

I wish the same fine, prosperous things for Danbury and its hospitable people that I wish for my own city in Massachusetts. I hope they strive for a better Danbury at the next mayoral election by choosing a different mayor, with a better memory of what America used to mean when his or her great-grandparents set foot on our shores -- often, legend has it, by falling to their knees and kissing the American dirt they'd dreamed of for years back in the old country.

And the hard-working Spanish-speaking immigrants who cleaned my toilet and vacuumed my room: Bienvenido a America, and may the Connecticut State Police always have better things to do than demand to see your papers.

We have laws about coming to America. We have memories, too -- or we should have.

Robert Merkin

Northampton MA


The News-Times
(Danbury, Connecticut USA)
Saturday 18 June 2005

Cops to remain cops

State spurns Danbury request
to deputize troopers
as federal immigration agents

By Eugene Driscoll

The News-Times file photo
The head of the Connecticut State Police said Friday normal duties, such as handling a major crime scene, are far more important for his troopers than becoming deputy immigration agents.

DANBURY -- Saying the state doesn't have the time or the money, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle effectively ended Mayor Mark Boughton's quest to deputize state police as immigration agents.

"For a number of reasons, I believe that federal deputization is not an effective measure against the problems that Connecticut currently faces," Boyle said in a letter to Boughton released Friday. "In short, given the extensive amount of training necessary to deputize state officers and the absence of any meaningful deportation process for illegal aliens who have not committed felony offenses, deputization would not seem to be a wise use of state resources."

The mayor requested in April to have U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement train state troopers in federal immigration laws. That touched off a heated statewide debate.

Boughton said illegal immigrants were straining city services and the city's housing stock.

Immigrant rights groups, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, criticized the mayor, saying his request would make the state's burgeoning immigrant population afraid of anyone in a police uniform.

Boughton supporters said the idea was to crack down on people who enter the country illegally -- not to harass all immigrants.

The Danbury Area Coalition for the Rights of Immigrants -- a group formed after Boughton's state police request -- organized a 1,200-person unity march Sunday to counter what they said was anti-immigrant sentiment in Danbury.

March organizers called on Boughton to publicly retract his call to deputize state police.

Wilson Hernandez, a spokesman for the coalition, was happy to hear the response from the state police.

"We're happy state officials took this seriously and analyzed it and gave our mayor the answer we expected," Hernandez said.

Hernandez' group was scheduled to meet Friday to talk about what it would do after the march.

"The march was only the first step. We have to work with our community and to put programs together to help our people. We need to work with our local elected officials. We are not united to bother anyone or cause problems. We are united to help people," Hernandez said.

Milton Pauta, president of the Ecuadorian Civic Center, said he hopes tension in the city will decrease.

"I'm happy to hear this," Pauta said. "We don't have to worry about the police doing the wrong thing. They can just do their regular job. I'm happy they don't want to mix immigration with local police."

Boughton, meanwhile, put a positive spin on the commissioner's letter by saying more federal and state resources will focus on Danbury.

The commissioner said state police are doing more to train troopers who patrol Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway to spot groups smuggling people into the area illegally.

"That goes after the infrastructure of the organizations who smuggle people into Connecticut," Boughton said.

The commissioner's letter also talks about a federal task force currently investigating criminal elements who engage in "alien smuggling" and human trafficking. It is an investigation that has been active for months.

Boughton said he would now focus on lobbying the federalgovernment to reform the country's immigration laws and tighten the national border. The mayor also said illegal immigrants should have the opportunity to enter the mainstream.

"I will also urge the President and Congress to enact meaningful border security measures and provide a vehicle to legalize America's existing undocumented immigrants," Boughton said in a letter to state police.

Maria-Cinta Lowe, executive director of the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, said she was happy to hear the mayor's comments. However, she said a rift still exists between Boughton and the immigrant community.

"The people are here. Give them rights. They are helping the economy. Give them papers," Lowe said.

Boughton said a Homeland Security appropriation bill under review by the Senate would allow local and state police to assist in enforcing immigration laws, along with their traditional police duties.

Contact Eugene Driscoll
or at (203) 731-3348.

* * * * * * *

Reuters 11 Jan 2003
White supremacists plan anti-Somali rally

LEWISTON, Maine (Reuters) -- A white supremacist group whose leader is accused of trying to have a federal judge murdered said on Thursday it will proceed with plans to protest an "invasion" of this New England college community by Somali immigrants.

A spokesman for the World Church of the Creator said the group, which preaches hatred of Jews and blacks on its Web site, would stage a two-hour rally on Saturday in Lewiston, where it says the local white population is fed up with the influx of immigrants from the war-torn East African nation.

The spokesman, the Rev. John King of Newport News, Virginia, said the Lewiston protest would go ahead despite the arrest on Wednesday in Chicago of the Rev. Matt Hale on charges he tried to solicit the murder of U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.

Hale, 31, was arrested as he arrived at Chicago's federal courthouse to face a possible contempt charge for refusing to obey Lefkow's November ruling in a trademark case. Hale told Reuters before his arrest that the Somalis were "invading" Lewiston, and that the residents of Maine's second-biggest city had welcomed his church's planned rally with open arms.

"The people of Lewiston want us there," said Hale, who claims he receives as many as five positive e-mails a day from local residents. "We've never received the groundswell of support we've gotten from the people of Lewiston."

But Phil Nadeau, Lewiston's assistant city administrator, said he doubted Hale's claims. "He could say that aliens from Mars want him here, but can he prove it?" Nadeau said. "My impression is there's a significant number of people in this community who don't support him and a handful who do."

He noted that while only 40 or 50 people were expected to turn up for the white supremacists' rally, hundreds -- maybe thousands -- may attend a planned counter-demonstration the same day that will focus on diversity and attempt to show that Lewiston is embracing its newest residents.

For years, the former mill town was simply known as the place where Muhammad Ali flattened Sonny Liston in 1965. But its booming Somali immigrant community has thrust Lewiston into the spotlight. More than 1,100 Somalis, seeking affordable housing, have moved to the city of 36,000 people in the past year.

While many U.S. cities -- including Minneapolis, Atlanta, and nearby Portland, Maine -- have larger Somali populations, few are as homogenous as Lewiston. About 95 percent of Lewiston locals are white, many of them descendants of the French-Canadian immigrants who once worked the mills.

Lewiston Mayor Laurier T. Raymond grabbed national headlines in October when he asked Somalis to stop moving to the city, citing concerns about overwhelmed social services.

"The Somali community must exercise some discipline and reduce the stress on our limited finances and generosity," Raymond wrote in an open letter. "Now we need room to breathe."

While the mayor's office says he never meant to convey a message of bigotry, Raymond's comments struck many Somalis as racist. The resulting uproar was enough to catch the attention of Hale and his group.

Saturday's dueling demonstrations will probably prompt the largest mobilization of law enforcement in Maine's history, officials said. But some of Lewiston residents, particularly the Somalis, said they are worried about the potential for violence as members of Hale's church descend on Lewiston.

"A lot of Somalis think they are very dangerous, and they are concerned for their safety," said Fatuma Hussein, director of an organization for Somali women in Maine and one of the scheduled speakers at Saturday's counter-demonstration.

- 30 -


Blogger Joana said...


Blogger Bob Merkin said...

At all times the Poor Earth! Poor Earth! has human beings fleeing, escaping, running for their lives, carrying their babies, abandoning their most precious possessions, just two steps ahead of monsters with guns and swords and torches.

There's nothing special about the United States of America. Before we tried to become The Mother of Exiles (largely because we needed a lot of cheap, desperate labor), the Netherlands opened its doors and its arms to the desperate refugees and fugitives and escapees of Europe.

Someday, when we've all calmed down a little from TERRORISM! TERRORISTS! MUSLIM TERRORISTS! we will all look back on This Moment in Earth History and be very ashamed -- Netherlands AND the USA -- that we were afraid to give safety and sanctuary to the desperate Boat People and Funny-Thinking People and Gays and Lesbians and Turks and Arabs and Moluccans ... oh yes, and Jews, there are still lots of places from which Jews are desperately trying to escape.

I have to stop now, in 15 minutes a dentist will be torturing me. I have contacted Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but they say they don't do Dental Torture cases. And I don't want to be late.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...


No human being should ever be ashamed of being frightened, of being afraid, of being terrified. Fear is as human, as normal, as healthy as having to flee for your life.

But the political choices, the way we vote in Times of Fear, the scoundrels whose rabble-rousing speeches of hate and fear and scapegoating we listen to ... these are the mistakes, if we let ourselves make Fear Mistakes, that will come back to haunt us in ten years. These are the mistakes we will be deeply ashamed of for the rest of our lives. These are the mistakes which will haunt our children and make them wonder about their parents.

Someone asked Albert Einstein what happened in his homeland Germany during the 1930s and '40s. Germany, land of Schiller and Goethe, land of Lessing's "Nathan der Weise" ...

... land of Göttingen, Heisenberg, Hilbert, Quantum Mechanics, land of the exquisite Dresden and Meisen porcelain figurines, land of Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach ... someone asked Einstein what happened. He said:

"An empty stomach is a poor political adviser."


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