Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, August 17, 2023
Maine is the latest East Coast location, after Massachusetts, New York City, and New York state, to face major financial and logistical challenges as a result of the more than 2 million immigrants released into the country from the border 2,000 miles away since President Joe Biden took office.
Most of the newcomers crossed the border into Texas and are originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, and they chose to go to Maine because of the growing central African population in the area, according to Jessica Grondin, director of communications and digital services for the city of Portland.
Approximately 1,600 immigrants, including asylum-seekers who must wait several years before having their claims decided, have traveled to the capital city since January. Portland has a population of 68,000 residents, making the influx of newcomers significant for the city government.
In April, the city moved 300 immigrants into the Portland Expo building as the city looked for longer-term housing. As a state that provides general assistance, including housing vouchers and food vouchers, to any person regardless of immigration status, it has put municipalities like Portland in a difficult position of having to accommodate those who show up.
City and state officials struggled to find long-term housing for families in the expo center until recently. Grondin told the Washington Examiner that it would cost more than $1.9 million to rent a hotel in the city of Freeport for up to a year, as well as a second hotel in Lewiston on a day-to-day basis for several months.
The biggest challenge, Grondin said, was in finding a way for immigrants to gainful lawful employment. Immigrants released at the border may obtain work documents from the federal government, but not for six months until after they have made an initial asylum claim.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) have introduced a bill that would shrink the time immigrants must wait before gaining work documents to 30 days.
Grondin said the city supported the proposal and said immigrants would be welcomed into the state’s workforce.