Migrants from the Congo and Angola, by way of Texas, stepping off buses in Portland, Maine, by the hundreds, taking shelter and sleeping on cots on a hardwood floor built for professional basketball? You’ve seen or heard the news, and you’ve felt the reflexes that come with it. On Fox News, Africans coming to Maine can sound like an invasion; on public radio, people say, it can sound like a sob story. Is this immigration politics at play: somebody in Washington taking revenge on refugees and the shelter cities that would embrace them? For sure it’s a preview of the mobile twenty-first century: a global flow of humanity driven north to green trees and high ground by heat, drought, war, and poverty.
You don’t see what you hear, as the lady told us. We went to Portland, Maine, this week to meet newcomers from Central Africa, Angolans and Congolese asking for U.S. asylum. Fox News hit the panic button two weeks ago: their line was that Maine is being overrun, inundated by African migrants. On a long day in Portland, however, we found nobody sounding scared. Around the pro basketball arena where the asylum seekers are quartered, the air is one of quiet elation.