I am writing to express my strong concern regarding the Department of Health and Human Services’ proposal to circumvent the law and deny General Assistance to people without immigration papers.

Not only would this rule change come at a cost to Maine’s taxpayers, but it would also render homeless some of Maine’s most vulnerable populations (including asylum seekers and abused, abandoned and neglected immigrant children, among others).

This illegal rule change asks Maine’s town clerks to serve as immigration experts, screening out those individuals the clerks deem authorized to live in the U.S.

Yet immigration is an extremely complicated area of the law. Even seasoned attorneys struggle at times to determine an individual’s immigration status. Maine’s town clerks would require extensive training in a whole new area of the law, at a cost to Maine’s taxpayers.

Given the complexity of U.S. immigration law, town clerks would likely revert to racial profiling by trying to guess who may or may not have immigration papers. Or town clerks would be forced to ask everyone who comes through their doors to prove their citizenship. Many people simply do not keep documentation to prove their citizenship on hand.

We are a state committed to respect for human dignity. To cut off basic aid to young immigrant children and asylum seekers fleeing life-threatening conditions in their home countries would place them in harm’s way, including homelessness, hunger and vulnerability to abuse.

Anna Welch

associate clinical professor, University of Maine School of Law; director, Refugee and Human Rights Clinic

South Portland