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Watching the footage from Afghanistan over the past week turned my stomach. My mind went back to the Afghan police officers with whom I worked on deployment. I can only hope nothing terrible has happened to them.
I’ll save my comments on America’s political leadership — past and present — for another day. Biting my tongue is the better part of wisdom; the situation is far too dynamic at the moment to offer comprehensive, cogent thoughts.
However, my faith has taught me that there is good in everything. That holds true even when it is hard to find.
“SIV” is an acronym that has come to the forefront in recent days. It is the “Special Immigrant Visa” program — a bridge to America for those who worked with U.S. personnel, most often as interpreters. If they remain in Afghanistan, they are likely marked for death as “collaborators.”
It is our responsibility to stand by them. Which is why the bungling of the SIV program has come under fire from left, right and center.
I’m fortunate. The interpreters I worked with were able to get out years ago; I’m not part of the digital Dunkirk trying to save those still there. But, through the dedicated efforts of countless Afghanistan veterans and other interested citizens, in spite of Washington’s bureaucratic inertia, many more Afghans will likely find their way to the “City on a Hill” that is America.
And we should welcome them to Maine.
We did the same with Lebanese immigrants nearly a century ago. That lineage gave us George Mitchell and John Baldacci. I may be a Republican and probably disagree with both those gentlemen on various issues, but I know having them as part of our state’s history makes us richer.
With the 2020 Census results released, Maine’s population grew 2.6 percent over the last decade. The nation saw 7.4 percent growth. We’re lagging behind.
Meanwhile, there are numerous stories highlighting the dearth of workers in our state. Whether it is health care, or construction, or hospitality or manufacturing, we simply need more people to do the jobs our economy requires. These challenges will only get more acute as the Baby Boomers reach retirement.
Enter the Afghans.
Language shouldn’t be an issue. After all, the reason they are in danger is because they speak English and helped American troops communicate with the local community.
I’ll vouch for their work ethic. I know anecdotes are not statistics, but the ones I worked with were not afraid of putting effort forward. That holds particularly true if our immigration laws encourage work and they have families to care for.
Are many of them Muslim? Yep. But I follow an Abrahamic faith (Catholicism) that was considered “un-American” a century ago. I’ll relish the theological debate, but their beliefs don’t bother me. Particularly because — again — they are under threat from fundamentalist followers of Islam called the “Taliban.” Because SIV recipients are moderate, English-speaking and engaged with the modern world.
We just celebrated Maine’s bicentennial. Our history is replete with “foreigners” carrying “funny names” following “strange religions” coming to our state. In the past, they were French. And Italian. And Lebanese.
During our tricentennial, we should add Afghans to that list.
Our departure from Afghanistan is a debacle. In the weeks ahead, the spinmeisters will attempt to lay political blame elsewhere to insulate their chosen partisan tribe from the fallout.
It’s petty. And small.
The Afghans eligible for the SIV — and their families — know that political games pale in comparison to life-or-death choices they make. When I was in Afghanistan, our command’s motto was “shona ba shona,” Dari for “shoulder-to-shoulder.”
I was proud to stand with them then. And I’ll be proud to stand with them again.
Inshallah, it may even be here in Maine.