Ledyard should proclaim it welcomes refugees

Innocent people in the Middle East are being driven from their homes by the ravages of war. They are streaming across borders into crowded refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis of world-wide proportions.

Meanwhile, in the United States, our government has issued executive orders to ban immigration from some of these same Middle Eastern countries. These orders introduce what is being referred to as “extreme vetting,” ignoring the fact that refugees are already subjected to a long and thorough vetting process.

Here in southeastern Connecticut, our citizens are looking for ways to respond to these executive orders with positive expressions. The mayors of New London and Norwich have issued statements of support for their own immigrant populations. In Ledyard-Gales Ferry our church groups have proposed a Town Proclamation stating that “we are a welcoming community and that vetted refugees and immigrants from all nations are safe here.”

This Proclamation is consistent with our community’s participation in refugee resettlement. It shows that we are still holding the torch of liberty high as a greeting for newcomers. We believe that good citizenship compels us to take a stand against fear mongering and immigrant bashing.

Some critics are saying that helping refugees should be a role for church missions only. They think that the town should not even make a statement that relates to church activities. We acknowledge that the act of welcoming strangers is a central teaching of most religions. But, it is also true that helping those in need is an important value in the secular world. This is true in Ledyard-Gales Ferry. Witness the outpouring of support from all of our neighbors when a fire destroys a home or when a family requires help in a medical emergency.

Some folks may be afraid that the reception of new immigrants will cause an unfair burden on taxpayers. But these assertions are usually exaggerated and always shortsighted. We only need look at the history of America to understand that each new wave of immigrants has brought tremendous contributions to the enrichment of our economy and our culture.

Others may say that a proclamation on this subject is not appropriate. The answer is that the Town of Ledyard frequently makes proclamations in support of particular groups and causes. We regularly recognize citizens who have given extraordinary service to the town. We make proclamations to honor our military veterans. We honor the fallen heroes on Memorial Day. We give special recognition to civic organizations and charity drives. Why is it so unusual that we should proclaim ourselves to be a welcoming community where immigrants from all nations can feel secure? That message is especially appropriate for immigrant populations that may feel unsafe encountering police and other emergency service personnel. A proclamation will help them feel confident in coming forward as witnesses when there are problems in the neighborhood.

In all of our proclamations we are making a statement about our own values. In this case, we are saying that we are a community that is willing to welcome families in desperate need through no fault of their own. The plain truth is that we are already a caring and benevolent society. Welcoming is part of our value structure. This is the right time to proclaim our spirit and dignity to the world.

David Holdridge is a former Ledyard town councilor who is now a leader of the refugee resettlement project. After an attempt to petition the welcoming proclamation onto the election ballot failed, resettlement advocates now propose that the Town Council approve the proclamation in the usual manner.


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