Nov. 4 To the Editor:

It is somewhat amusing but mostly disgusting to observe the reaction of Donald Trump and his xenophobic supporters to the approximately 3,000 Central American refuges heading to the United States to seek political asylum as is their right guaranteed under international law. Trump is acting as if this groups represents an imminent danger to the United States and is planing on sending as many as 15,000 troops to the border to "protect" us. Trump even stated that troops might even fire on the refugees if they throw rocks at our troops.

What I find amusing about this situation is how differently we reacted in 1980, when Fidel Castro emptied jails, mental institutions and allowed as many as 125,000 Cubans to flee to America, in what was known as the Mariel Boatlift. Instead of turning away these asylum seekers America opened its arms and did what was necessary to assist these people.

I had a person involvement with the Mariel boatlift, which gave me a first-hand account of the people arriving from Cuba. I was an Air Force Public Health Officer assigned to Tyndall AFB during this period. To assist the thousands of Cubans arriving, the government established a large tent city on the fair grounds of Ft. Walton Beach, FL. They also sent an Air Transportable Hospital (ATH) from Shaw AFB, NC to provide health care for the refugees. I was sent from Tyndall, to provide public health assistance to the ATH and the tent city. As a result, I was able to interact, with my limited Spanish, with many of the Cuban refugees. While most were ordinary decent people, it was obvious that many had severe mental illness, had a history of violence and were not people we would otherwise accept into our country. In fact, about 2,750 were not granted citizenship because of their criminal record, and most were eventually deported.

In contrast to what we are seeing and hearing from Republicans with regard to the current Central American asylum seekers, the Mariel people were welcomed with open arms by Republicans. Where was the Republican concern for protecting our borders and citizens from these dangerous arrivals? The fact that most Cubans who had fled to America soon after Castro took power, and established themselves in what was known as "little Havana" in Miami became very right-wing Republicans was an important political consideration in their support. In a prediction of the future, the only opposition I witnessed while at the refugee center, was a small plane which flew over the center puling a banner that read, "KKK, we are watching you." Now it is Trump flying that banner 38 years later.

America survived the Mariel boatlift, and would be able to survive the current massively smaller number of refugees from Central America. We reflected the best of America with the Mariel boatlift. In fact, we were awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal by the Air Force for our service. I assume Trump has no intention of awarding any humanitarian awards to the troops being sent to the Mexican border. Unfortunately today, with Trump and his racist supporters leading the way, we are displaying to the world an America who has lost the basic values and principles from which we were created. How ironic, that the Statue of Liberty with its welcoming words to the oppressed of the world, is standing in New York Harbor within view of Trump Tower. If you look closely, you might see tears flowing down her face.

Rich DiPentima, LTC, USAF, Ret.