Letter to the editor: General Assistance helps to produce proud, contributing citizens

I came to the U.S. as an asylum seeker from Rwanda in May 2011, having fled my country because of persecution, torture and the fear of being assassinated.

I left behind my wife and four children, my assets, my culture and my job. I had served as a humanitarian worker for 10 years before opening my own company, where I worked as a community development consultant for countries throughout Europe and Africa.

Fleeing your country is a traumatic experience, especially after enduring physical and mental torture. I would not wish that upon anyone. My only hope in fleeing was to find a place where I wouldn’t face discrimination.

Starting a new life as an asylum seeker in Maine was difficult. Applying and waiting for work authorization is a long and complicated process. Because I couldn’t work, I relied on General Assistance to help pay for rent and food. It was all I was eligible for.

Being unemployed was so frustrating. It wasn’t because I was incapable, unskilled, disabled or unwilling to work. The only reason I wasn’t able to work was because of my immigration status.

Since getting my work authorization, I am now working full time. In addition to helping people, my job allows me to pay taxes, insurance, rent and utilities, and to contribute to the social and economic well-being of Maine. I thank God for that.

John F. Kennedy said, "The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened." Shutting down General Assistance to asylum seekers not only threatens them, it diminishes the rights of Mainers to protect other human beings.

Please give us a chance to write a new page of our stories and become proud citizens of this beautiful country. Please protect General Assistance.

Leopold Ndayisabye