Offering a port after the storm

Puerto Rico is at least a month away from having just 25 percent of its electricity restored. Who knows how long the rest will take? Water systems, schools, businesses — nothing in the hurricane-ravaged island will operate normally for a long time.

Some Puerto Ricans, including students whose schools won't re-open for months, may have no choice but to leave their island home while its roads, hospitals, manufacturing plants and the rest of its infrastructure are rebuilt, mostly from the ground up. Of 100,000 to 200,000 people expected to leave for the U.S. mainland, an unknown number will come to Connecticut, either to stay with family or because FEMA's relocation plans send them here.

What they will find when they get here is assistance based on guidelines the state first developed for accommodating weather-displaced Americans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Gov. Malloy supplemented those last week with directives, including one that schools should be prepared for arriving students. Some may come without parents who must stay on the island to rebuild.

What those displaced by Hurricane Maria should find when they arrive at Bradley International Airport is a big banner in Spanish and English: "Welcome to Connecticut. We want to help." Bienvenidos a Connecticut. Queremos ayudar.

There was nothing anyone could do to prevent the devastation of a Catgeory 4 hurricane raking the island, but there is plenty that can be done to address the greatest need after such a storm: Its victims must not feel abandoned. For children, especially those being sent off the island on their own to relatives, the trauma would be even worse if they were made to feel unwelcome.

There are two reasons why these newcomers might get that unpleasant message: the persistent attitude of some people in the state that everyone must communicate in English, and the practical difficulty for cities and school districts to extend services when their municipal and educational funding is stalled by lack of a state budget.

Failure to enact a budget is already a well-documented blot on the state's current and future financial condition. In the short term, the needed assistance can be provided, especially with the generosity and ingenuity of local and state officials, supplemented by houses of worship, United Way and other charitable organizations that are already helping here and on the ground in Puerto Rico. Longer-term, this is one more disgraceful reason why the state can't meet its obligations without a revenue and spending plan.

The matter of language goes deeper.

As documented by Day Staff Writer Julia Bergman in an article that appeared Monday, the number of Puerto Ricans living in Connecticut rose by 36 percent between 2005 and 2015; 66 percent in New London County. Many left because of the commonwealth's financial crisis. Just under 300,000 live here now, the majority in cities. 

Citizens of Puerto Rico are American citizens. The Constitution under which they and all Americans live does not establish English or any other tongue as a sole state-sanctioned language. Numerous large and small businesses have found it to their advantage to communicate with Spanish-speakers in the language they know best. It is undoubtedly an advantage to speak English, but it is not a requirement for exercising basic rights.

There are multitudes of ways to welcome Puerto Ricans to Connecticut. City public schools will do it well, having had the most experience. The finance committee of the Board of Regents for the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities is taking up a proposal to offer them the in-state tuition rate of $5,469 for the state universities and a comparable rate at the state's community colleges. According to the Connecticut Mirror, their enrollment would also help the state institutions where the numbers of students has been slipping.

Connecticut has a long history with Atlantic hurricanes. It could have happened here, but since it did not — this time — the state can offer a port after the storm. Benvenidos a Connecticut.

 

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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