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BEING A REFUGEE IS NOT A CRIMINAL ACT

A Nov. 10 letter writer complained about the use of taxpayer dollars to fund our refugee center, Vive La Casa. He declared it "absurd" that County Executive Joel Giambra should pledge to keep the center open because most residents lack "legal status." If Vive La Casa were indeed a haven for illegal aliens, the Immigration and Naturalization Service would have shut it down years ago.

The writer suggested that funding Vive La Casa is the equivalent of government funding organizations "housing drug dealers or burglars." Of course, there are lots of such "organizations." They are called jails. However, being a refugee is not a criminal act.

For example, an 18-year-old girl from Rwanda, Africa, recently stayed at La Casa on her way to Ontario. She spoke little English and has no relatives or friends in America. Her aunt sent the girl here after both of her parents were executed. For her, Vive La Casa was truly "the golden door."

Giambra demonstrated why he is our county executive. After receiving a flood of complaints about proposed funding cuts, he took it upon himself to tour the facility and meet with its staff, volunteers and some residents. It was a powerful experience for him, and it resulted in his pledge to keep Vive La Casa open.

Giambra understands, as should others, the distinction between people who flee to our shores applying for asylum from persecution, and those who sneak in, either without telling anyone or by misrepresentation. To paint them all with the same brush is to make a mockery of Emma Lazarus' stirring invitation.

ANDREW R. GRAHAM
Buffalo

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