Mayor Robert Macdonald (R) of Lewiston, Maine, is drawing attention for controversial remarks in a BBC interview that aired on Sept. 11, in which he tells immigrants who come to America: "You come here, you come and you accept our culture and you leave your culture at the door."
Macdonald's comments seemed particularly targeted toward Somali immigrants, who have fled their desperately poor African nation and moved in considerable numbers to Lewiston. They now constitute nearly 10 percent of the town's population, according to The Sun Journal.
Asked by local TV news station WGME to clarify his remarks, Macdonald said, "I don't care if you're white, you're black, you're yellow. I don't care what color you are, when you come into the country, you have to accept our culture. Don't try to insert your culture into ours."
The Sun Journal reports that the Somali-American community is concerned by the tone of the mayor's comments.
"Would he ask that of the other cultures in Lewiston?" Hussein Ahmed, a Somali-American community leader, told the newspaper. "Would he ask that of the Franco-Americans and of the Irish?"
But Macdonald stood by his comments in the interview with WGME and criticized "people that are yelling about (that) I'm unsensitive to their culture."
"Why aren't they back over in Somalia? Why are they over here?" he added.
Macdonald received attention earlier this month when he wrote in a newspaper column that "the occasional news stories about the poor treatment of Lewiston's Somali population are becoming annoying."
"The demagoguery and hypocrisy coming from a small number of extremist white liberals and their African surrogates seeking to cast Lewiston in a bad light is unconscionable," he wrote.
He added that many Somalis in Lewiston have found success in getting jobs, buying homes and starting businesses, and that complaints about Somali relations in Lewiston "are coming almost exclusively from boo-hoo white do-gooders and their carpetbagger friends."
In 2002, then-mayor Laurier Raymond also upset the Somali community when he asked immigrants to stop coming to the city because there was too much pressure on Lewiston's social services.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly attributed Ahmed's comments to an article in the Bangor Daily News; they were printed in the Sun Journal.
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The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
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