Statue of Liberty

The best of the best

I’d like to tell you about my friend Cledor.

I want to tell you about Cledor because he’s relevant in two ways to the current immigration debate.

First, Cledor Ndiaye is a legal immigrant. He arrived here because he won the immigration lottery.

That’s the lottery that allows 50,000 vetted workers to reach U.S. shores annually from nations that historically don’t have many people emigrate to the U.S. It’s called the diversity lottery for that reason.

President Donald Trump said in his State of the Union message that he wants to close that door, ending the program.

Second, Cledor is from one of those African countries that Trump infamously labeled with a term not fit for a community newspaper. He’s from Senegal.

It is a coastal nation in West Africa that’s slightly smaller than South Dakota. About half of the country is farmed, but almost half of its residents fall below the world poverty standard.

The lottery that Cledor won sets work and education standards for applicants. He had worked as a hotel manager and as a translator before leaving Senegal for Minnesota. The program also vets applicants to block those who could pose a security threat.

My wife and I met Cledor through our church, when he was seeking to move from a less-safe neighborhood to one closer to Incarnation church, which he was attending.

Cledor moved in with us for several months, until a relative planned an extended stay and we needed the room.

What impressed us most was the diligence with which Cledor pursued the chance presented him by his entry to the U.S.

His day began around 3:30 a.m., when he rose to pray. As one who grew up Christian in a predominantly Muslim country, his faith and his Bible were important touchstones in his new life.

He’d leave our house about 4:30 a.m. to catch a crosstown bus to the Blue Line station. He’d take the train as far as he could, then catch a ride with Latino co-workers to an assembly job in Mendota Heights. After his shift, he’d take the train to downtown Minneapolis and the library. That’s where he’d sift through job listings and polish his computer skills until his evening job-training program.

Cledor improved his job skills in a Twin Cities RISE classroom filled with ex-inmates training to re-enter the workforce. He was a star pupil.

After class, Cledor would bus back to our house, typically leaving a scant five hours for sleep.

He arrived already fluent in at least one Senegalese language. He also spoke French, the language of those who colonized Senegal, as well as German and English. Working with Spanish speakers, he quickly added that language after his arrival here.

That served him well when he landed his first white-collar job as an employment counselor for a Minneapolis-based non-profit agency serving Latino families. That job in turn was a stepping-stone to managing the employment program for a suburban-based agency. More recently, he’s pursued a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Minnesota.

When I think of Cledor, he serves as an example of the same motivation that propelled my German and French Canadian ancestors when they arrived on these shores long before I was born.

Trump labeled people like Cledor, those who won the immigration lottery, as “the worst of the worst.”

I regard Cledor as the best of the best.