“Akumuhana kaza ivura ihise” or “sometimes help comes too late,” is a very common saying in Kinyamulenge.

The saying is meant to encourage self-reliance rather than dependence on help from others.

Today’s immigrants in Maine work extremely hard to provide for their families. This has always been true in America, and it continues to be true today.

Yet many people believe that welcoming immigrants brings economic risk, and that immigrants come to the United States to take away from – rather than give to – the country that has graciously and kindly received them and provided them with a safe home. These people are misinformed. Immigrants here in Maine and around the country are major contributors to the American economy and are an enormous asset to society.

During the last 17½ years that I have lived here in Maine, I have worked very hard, and I am not unique. In my position as human resources director in an immigrant-owned enterprise, I meet people from the immigrant community every day who are looking for jobs. I see first-hand the strength of their work ethic and their eagerness to provide for their families. The majority are young and full of energy. Many hold two or three jobs and attend school as well. Their motivation is to support their family here, as well as their family overseas. In so doing, their efforts benefit the local economy and contribute to the greater good of humanity.

Immigrants have dreams and aspirations and want to thrive here in America. A clear obstacle for many is the language barrier. This is a serious issue that the government and all immigrant service providers need to address. Once languages barriers are lifted, a great deal of potential that is currently buried will be available to address the employee shortage in Maine.

In its 2016 report, Coastal Enterprises Inc. estimated that 2020 is the year that 65% of Mainers would be over 65 years old, and the state would begin to face a wide gap between those entering and leaving the labor force. They suggested that immigrants could form part of the solution to this serious issue. I urge Maine’s leaders to develop serious mechanisms for welcoming and supporting immigrants, despite the atrocious xenophobic rhetoric that has been spreading throughout the country in recent years.

I love Maine. Maine is my home now, and it is where my kids were born and are being raised. I have lived here almost as long as I lived in my native country. Like all immigrants, I dream of leaving our society better than I found it. We have a duty and responsibility to create a better society for future generations.