Alanna Durkin, Yahoo! News, July 29, 2014
In the whitest U.S. state, thousands of miles from the Mexican border, the debate over immigration is becoming a central issue in one of the nation’s most closely watched governor’s races.
With its close-knit communities and a practice of labeling non-natives as “from away,” Mainers have a reputation for being insular. But they have also embraced the need for immigrants as the state’s population ages and declines.
So Republican Gov. Paul LePage roiled the cultural waters when he criticized the federal government’s placement of eight immigrant children in Maine without advising him.
He said Monday that the federal government was ducking its responsibility by leaving the border unprotected and pushing the burden onto states. He said he worries about the financial impact if more children are placed in the state.
“If we have eight kids in the state right now and if there are any state dollars going there, there are eight Mainers not getting services,” he said during a visit to a homeless shelter in Lewiston. “There’s not an endless pot of money up there.”
The issue has risen to the forefront of races for governor in border states, like Arizona. It dominated a Republican gubernatorial debate there last week, in which the candidates outlined ideas including deployment of National Guard troops and more employer sanctions.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s offer to temporarily house children at two bases has drawn both praise and attacks from the candidates seeking to fill the Democrat’s seat.
In Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s rejection of a federal request to house as many as 2,000 minors at a mostly vacant state property has left him vulnerable to criticism from Republican contenders, who have said the decision was made too quickly and was out of character.
In Maine, LePage’s re-election campaign has attacked his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, for not taking a clear stand on whether he would agree to shelter children in Maine and sought to link Michaud’s views with Patrick’s when the two campaigned together in Maine last week.
LePage’s campaign is touting his policies on immigration, including a recent directive that cities and towns not provide welfare benefits to those who can’t prove they are living in the country legally.
Michaud’s campaign said last week that LePage is using the issue merely to rally his political base this November. Michaud said that the decision to house children in Maine would depend on a number of factors, including the cost and what sites are available.
Maine, whose population of 1.3 million is about 94 percent white, is home to an estimated 55,000 immigrants and relies heavily on migrant workers for its blueberry harvest every August.