Monday, March 10, 2014
WASHINGTON — There’s no talk of building a fence or wall along Maine’s 600-mile-long border with Canada.
Nor is illegal immigration the type of polarizing election-year issue that can make or break political candidates in Maine, as it can in some parts of the South and West.
But as the Senate begins debating the most comprehensive immigration reform proposal in years, a broad swath of interest groups in Maine – from apple farmers to hotel owners, high-tech companies to refugee advocates – are pushing for passage of a bill they say contains some much-needed policy changes.
“It’s important for us to have immigration laws that reflect the realities of our economy and our family relationships,” said Susan Roche, interim executive director at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, a Portland-based nonprofit that offers legal assistance to immigrants.
The issue is also focusing attention on Maine’s two U.S. senators – and particularly Republican Sen. Susan Collins – as supporters work to pick up the bipartisan votes needed to advance the bill. Senate leaders hope to complete work on the bill by July.
“I don’t know that we expect this debate to be easy necessarily,” Cecilia Munoz, director of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters last week as the White House stepped up its targeted political campaign ahead of the Senate votes. “But there is a lot of evidence that leadership in both parties in both bodies recognize that it is in the country’s best interest and that it’s in their best interest to move immigration reform forward.”
The offices of Collins and Sen. Angus King report receiving a healthy number of calls, emails and letters from people on both sides of the issue. King, who has indicated that he supports many aspects of the Senate bill, received more than 650 contacts from Mainers in the past two weeks.
A moderate Republican viewed as a potential swing vote, Collins has said she supports comprehensive immigration reform, including changes that would allow young people brought to the country and highly skilled workers to remain in the country. But she has yet to weigh in on the specifics of the Senate bill.
“Senator Collins has a thick notebook detailing the bill, and she intends to spend the weekend analyzing the many aspects to be ready for the important debate next week,” said Kevin Kelley, Collins’ spokesman.
DIVERSE GROUP OF IMMIGRANTS
Determining the number of illegal immigrants in Maine or any state is difficult, but the Pew Hispanic Center estimated that the figure was less than 10,000 in 2010. Overall, there were roughly 43,000 foreign-born individuals in Maine in 2011, or 3.3 percent of the population in that year. Census data show that the percentage is rising, however, and that growth is all the more significant given Maine’s slow overall population growth and aging demographics.
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