A Birthday Talk with Angus

The crux of the phone call with Maine’s US Senator, Angus King, was the request, “Please don’t look away.” Artwork by Alessandra Mondolfi and photo by Tina Marie Davidson; at Homestead child detention camp in Homestead, Florida.

The silence from our elected representatives, some of whom I admire, has hit me very hard. We would think that taking kids from their families and putting them in tents or cages as well as losing many in the system would initiate an outcry not only from our citizens but from our representatives as well. Sadly, we would be wrong. And it’s not just here in Maine or the USA. My son says that as he moves through Europe he sees the same thing there. Lots of talk about “crazy Americans and their guns and lack of health care” but silence on immigration and locking people up in subhuman conditions. Guess it hits too close to home for them as well as they also are unwelcoming to those fleeing violence and climate change induced starvation. So when my phone message Friday afternoon started with, “Hello Maryellen, Angus here,” I nearly died.

I admit that I have always had a soft spot for Angus and it’s understandable that folks such as those who have worked hard at turning Bath Iron Works into a post weapons, green jobs creating facility will struggle to read that. But it began 20 or so years ago when laptops came into my middle school science classroom. While fellow teachers were livid about them, I was ecstatic. The possibilities! Laptops changed how I taught science and how kids interacted with science concepts. It was a huge, positive, and wonderful shift. I still hold onto the vision and courage it took to push that transformative initiative forward.

When the phone call first came, I was setting up our signs at our weekly corner spot where a wonderful and dedicated group of us stand to lift our voices against what our government is doing along the southern border. Since I didn’t recognize the number I didn’t answer. When the voice mail ding came and I listened, my heart skipped a beat. Later that evening I returned the call but Angus wasn’t available.

Saturday morning around 9:30 his call came again and we spoke for over 30 minutes. Let me just say that whether we agreed with each other on everything or not (we didn’t), immense credit is due here. After all Angus doesn’t know me. He’s home on vacation. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, perfect beach, mountain, or lake day. And he called me. He personally picked up his cell phone and called me.

The beginning of the call was Angus telling me about his recent trip to the TX border. While I am grateful that he went, I was a little put off by what sounded to me like talking points. He sounded nervous. Talking about taking kids from their families should make us all sound nervous, so I understood. This is happening on his watch after all. There were times I wanted to interrupt and interject my differing perspective, but I listened. And I’m glad I did, because it allowed me to learn where Angus was coming from and why. He is obviously a logical man. He shared about the overwhelming logistical difficulties of so many people crossing our border. I get that. It’s real. What I wanted to hear from him however, was how he saw this as a humanitarian crisis on a grave scale. While he said, repeatedly, that he saw it that way, that wasn’t really what I heard in his voice or in his words, yet. He did mention dealing with where the problem starts, in their home countries. We both agreed on that.

Listening to Angus, I thought it sounded like he thought he was talking to someone who really didn’t know the issue well. It wasn’t until he heard that I had volunteered at the Expo and had gone to Homestead that the phone call shifted and became a conversation between two people. That conversation went on for another 30 minutes. It was relaxed, honest, and productive.

It’s been 24 hours since our call and a few things are staying with me. As I think about the congressional folks, mostly women but not all, who have come back from the border camps it becomes apparent how they often struggle with containing their emotions when they speak about what they saw. Personally, that feels like the correct response. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman who struggles as well to discuss this without crying. Why are so many women able to put themselves and their families in the place of these families so easily? When I think about the children and families we have harmed and continue to harm I feel a deep kick to the gut that is hard to control. It is easy to see my own two children in their place and it instantly becomes overwhelming. If we would not want this for our children then we should not allow this for any children.

As our conversation continued, I told him of several accounts of children who were harmed, intentionally and cruelly, by Border Patrol. Our conversation shifted to the agencies who are carrying out these policies and my deep concern over whether they should be. There is a dedicated woman from Maine who went to help in Texas for a few weeks at Annunciation House. She speaks Spanish. Her blog shared heart wrenching accounts of how poorly people were treated when in Border Patrol detention and how humanely they were treated at the transition house she volunteered in. I shared some of her accounts with him. This Border Patrol cruelty isn’t new information. We see it on the TV and the internet and we hear of it from those who come back after volunteering on the border. We know this to be true. We discussed why we don’t have humanitarian organizations on the border to do this work. Organizations, such as the Red Cross, who successfully and humanely do this type of work world wide. Like Jared Golden, Angus agreed that he had never thought of that and it was something that needed to be looked into and would be a welcomed and much improved change. With that our conversation ventured into the notion of intent. The intent of the policies and those carrying them out in these camps as well as with the ICE raids. We discussed the Expo in Portland, which has housed over 250 asylum seekers who arrived via bus from the southern border. They too have been traumatized by the circumstances that forced them to leave their homes and the journey that followed. The Expo is certainly not a fancy set up. Upon first glance you might even think it was a horrible solution. But if you stay long enough, and listen closely enough, as I did and as Angus said he did, you detect the difference. The people running the Expo care deeply about the well being and safety of the families in their care. That is not true at Border Patrol facilities/camps/tents/cages at the border. At the Expo, volunteers are encouraged to come help. That is not allowed at our facilities at the border. The Expo has hot food prepared that is familiar to the families. That is not true at our facilities at the border. The Expo keeps the families together. We know all to well that this is not true at our facilities at the border. The Expo provides hygiene products that are needed. That is not true at our facilities at the border. The Expo provides translators. When I write “facilities at the border” it is government sponsored and/or paid for facilities that I am referring to, not Catholic Charities, Annunciation House, and the other wonderful programs that are operating with the intent of providing services with humanity and who are doing their very best to help those in such dire need. These facilities/programs are what we should be looking at and magnifying. But then we all know that the core of our policies is cruelty.

When we were preparing to end our conversation I asked Angus to prioritize this issue (and climate change) and to please not look away. He promised me he would. It is important that we all continue to call and contact him and his offices in an effort to hold him to his word. So please, call all your representatives. Write to them. Go to their offices. If they hold coffee houses or town halls while they are in their home states (like they should) go to them as well. Don’t let up. Demand they break their silence and work to end our inhumane immigration policies. And while we are at it, tell them to Abolish Ice. We lived without ICE before 9/11, we can certainly live without their cruelty again.



2 thoughts on “A Birthday Talk with Angus

  1. Thank you for your activism and this post. I have been personally disappointed by our Maine reps and their responses to my many calls, so I’m happy to hear something encouraging about King.


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