While visiting my home state of Maine I used Uber to get around Portland
During one trip the driver, Deo, and I started talking.
He has lived in Maine for 10 years.
And he is an immigrant from Burundi, one of the poorest countries in Africa.
In 1993 the first democratically-elected President came to power there.
Voter turnout was 97%.
Later that year the President was assassinated, and civil war erupted.
After two of Deo’s children died the same year, he walked 600 miles to Tanzania.
For the next decade he called two Tanzanian refugee camps home while assistance from the United Nations helped secure his asylum in the United States.
In 2008 he relocated to Maine after a short stay in Iowa.
Maine Used to Champion Refugees
For close to a decade Maine championed refugees, and whether that is because its population is rapidly aging and attracting younger workers was strategically smart or if it was a humanitarian gesture, I can’t say.
Either way, it was a powerfully good thing.
And unlike Wyoming, Maine had a plan to assist people in need.
But as of January 2018, an amended Act curtained Maine’s participation in what remains of the federally-funded refugee resettlement program.
In truth, since the U.S. presidential election of 2016, refugee resettlement in Maine and elsewhere has all but ended.
Between October 1, 2017 and March 15, 2018, 91% fewer refugees came to Maine.
That’s 21 arrivals versus 229 in the same period the previous year.
Yet for Deo, life here is good.
He works in Portland and belongs to a supportive community that both sees and believes in his worth.
After all he has witnessed and experienced, he reports being treated fairly and with respect in the whitest state in the country.
And his reflection on Maine matters to me; I want to live where human life is valued and compassionate acts are not only tolerated but are sanctioned.
Deo’s Uber profile shows he has a 4.86 overall rating with almost all evaluations being perfect 5-stars.
He says on the Uber app, “I am honest and take care of people.
“I love gospel music.
“I am filling [feeling] nice when I give people rides.”
• Read about the Wyoming student who wrote a refugee resettlement plan for the only state without one.
• Listen to Maine Public Radio, The Year the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled, by Deborah Amos, Jan 1, 2018.
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Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com. She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and is a practitioner of both HeartMath and The Connection Practice.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” — C. West