As a volunteer attorney for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, I have conducted intake interviews with at least 80 asylum-seekers over the past four years, from countries including Rwanda, Angola and Iraq. I take issue with the LePage administration’s condemnation of the city of Portland for extending benefits to this group (“In welfare reform war, Portland in cross hairs,” Maine Sunday Telegram, Feb. 22).

Without exception, the immigrants I met with did not come to the U.S. to live off government benefits. Instead, they often left good jobs, decent homes and the support of their families to escape torture, imprisonment and death threats incurred because of their political beliefs or ethnicity.

The asylum-seekers I’ve interviewed have included professors, journalists, information technology analysts, ministers and small-business owners, all of whom planned to seek employment of any kind as soon as they qualified for a work permit (six months after applying for asylum).

One young man I represented had been a conservationist at a national park in his homeland. He volunteered for a local environmental organization after arriving in Portland and has supported himself through jobs as a hotel attendant, a home care worker and a telephone sales representative.

Mayor Michael Brennan and the City Council recognize the contributions that asylum-seekers and other immigrants make to the community and understand the value of offering them short-term financial support. The governor’s relentless efforts to punish the city are ill-informed and shortsighted.

Betsy Mahoney

Cumberland Foreside