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Port: True American patriots would welcome our Liberian friends with open arms

All immigrants should be welcome in our communities, but given our nation's unique ties to Liberia, Liberians should perhaps be even more welcome than most.

Antonia Johnson, mother of Daisy Jupiter Paulsen, being comforted by a member of the Liberian Community on June 25, 2021.jpg
A woman comforts Antonia Johnson, mother of Daisy "Jupiter" Paulsen, at a memorial for the slain 14-year-old girl on June 25, 2021.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — The recent Washington Post profile of racism inflicted upon Liberian immigrants in the Fargo area was a hard one to read, both as an American and as a North Dakotan.

Nobody likes to be confronted with ugly truths about the places we live, but it's a medicine we must swallow. Some of our neighbors have committed themselves to making the Liberian community feel unwelcome in our state, harassing and scaring them in various ways.

There have been fliers espousing nonsense about the "great replacement," a conspiracy theory holding that liberal Americans are trying to replace White voters with immigrants.

Some actions, too, have been motivated by the murder of a young Fargo girl named Jupiter Paulsen by a Liberian man.

But most of this nonsense is born of the usual bigoted, nativist notions about who is and is not a real American.

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An irony, given Liberia's deep history with the United States.

Flag of Liberia
Flag of Liberia. (2022, November 23).
From Wikipedia

Have you ever looked at Liberia's flag, and noticed that it looks quite a bit like our flag?

That's because Liberia was founded, with funding from Congress, as an American colony, though an unusual one. The idea, which was controversial in its time, as it is now, was to repatriate Black Americans — freeborn citizens and emancipated slaves — to Africa.

Liberia was created by Americans as a way to atone for one of our nation's most grievous sins.

In 1822, the first of Liberia's new citizens crossed the Atlantic to settle in what was then called the Grain Coast. They established Monrovia, named after former President James Monroe, which is the country's capital to this day. By 1847, Liberia was able to break off from the United States and form an independent government.

In just over 40 years, Liberia went from being a colony administered by whites to an independent republic — the first of its kind in Africa — governed by its own Black citizens. They modeled their constitution and their form of government on ours. The nascent republic's first president, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, was an American, as were the members of his cabinet.

Liberia was our ally against Germany in WWI, and against the fascist Axis powers during WWII, and paid a price for it. German attacks on the country in relation were devastating.

The country was a founding member of the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the Organization of African Unity.

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But colonialism, even when exercised with good intent, has a dark side. The Americo-Liberians found themselves in conflict with the indigenous peoples of Liberia.

And that, sadly, is also very American.

Indigenous Africans were suppressed by the Liberian government. They were denied birthright citizenship and property rights until 1904. By the 1980s, these tensions had descended into violence, first in the form of a military coup, and then civil war.

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That our government also exploited Liberia during this same time period, giving the country "aid" in the form of high-interest loans, and pressuring it into lopsided deals with American corporations, exacerbated the suffering of the nation.

But our relationship to the Liberian Republican was fraught from the start. Thanks to the influence of the southern, slave-holding states, America didn't formally recognize the Liberian Republic until the Civil War era, after the southern states seceded, and 14 years after it had been formed.

Today Liberia, founded with the best of intentions as a republic mirroring our own, is a place where poverty is rampant and corruption endemic.

This is why so many Liberians have fled back to America to find peace and prosperity .

And now, in our part of the world, they're subjected to the racism of some in our communities who, though no doubt unduly enamored with their supposed patriotism, seem to understand very little about what it means to be American.

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Our nation takes in more immigrants than any other country in the world.

Over 50 million immigrants make their homes in our country, representing some 15.4% of the population . Most of you reading this are either immigrants yourselves or no more than a few generations descended from immigrants.

Without immigration, our nation's population would be stagnant. Birthrates in our country have been consistently below replacement levels since 2007 and have generally been below that level since 1972 .

All immigrants should be welcome in our communities, but given our nation's unique ties to Liberia, Liberians should perhaps be even more welcome than most.

True patriots, people who understand what America is, and what it aspires to be, would welcome our Liberian friends with open arms.

Those who do the opposite are whatever the opposite of a patriot is.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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