It’s a busy time for Cynthia Fonseca.

She’s a senior at Portland High School and has to get her classwork finished so she can graduate in June.

She’s also not done with the entrance exams she needs to take to enter Southern Maine Community College in the fall. And there are still financial aid forms and scholarship interviews to complete.

On top of that, she works 18 hours a week, and, oh yea, she has to find a place to sleep, because she and her family have been evicted from their apartment.

“Mom stays with one friend, I stay with one friend, my brother and sister stay with friends. We are all separate,” Fonseca said Tuesday. “We felt bad. It was so hard for us.”

Fonseca and her family are asylum seekers from the Republic of Congo who have lived in Portland for three years, stuck in a legal limbo while they wait for a federal immigration court to take action on their application for permanent residence. They are also at the center of a no-win political battle, in which Gov. LePage unfairly attacks families like hers. He calls them “illegal immigrants” even though they are here legally and accuses them of spreading disease and taking advantage of the welfare system.

If he’s trying to scare people, the strategy appears to be working.

Fonseca’s family learned in April that their landlord did not want to sign a new lease with them because he was afraid they would lose their rent voucher from General Assistance, which provides temporary emergency aid.

And he’s not the only landlord who’s starting to get scared. Jeff Tardif, program coordinator for Portland’s family shelter, said it’s always been fairly easy to find housing for new immigrant families.

“They are good tenants, and landlords like them,” he said. But for the past month, he has not been able to find permanent housing for a single asylum-seeking family.

“That’s fear of the unknown,” he said.

The landlords are afraid because the city is afraid.

LePage and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew have made dumping families like Cynthia’s into the street a major policy goal of the administration.

Refusing state funds to keep this family housed is what Mayhew called “the right thing to do” when she testified before the Legislature last year. LePage and Mayhew have taken the legally questionable position that they can unilaterally decide who deserves help and who does not, and the issue is being litigated in court.

They may lose the case, but they are winning outside of it. They have withheld all General Assistance funds to Portland, not just the funds used to assist asylum seekers. That forces the city to fill a $6 million hole in the current year’s budget, and to plan to fill another hole in the next fiscal year that starts July 1. City officials are in the budgeting process now, and many think Portland can’t afford to continue the aid unless the state is forced to contribute.

In the meantime, 500 Portland families, including many who are legally present in this country but prohibited from working, are facing some tough months ahead. General Assistance doesn’t just cover rent – it also pays for food and medicine.

If the aid stops July 1, these people will be hurting.

Cynthia’s family is luckier than most. She has permission to work, and so does her mother, who recently got a 40-hour-a-week job. Other Maine families don’t have a work permit, or Cynthia’s language skills. They will have a much harder time if the General Assistance budget is cut.

Cynthia says those people are not taking advantage of the system.

“When you go to GA they ask you to work or volunteer if you can’t get a job. If you don’t work they take the GA,” she said. “It’s not for lazy people. As soon as I got my work permit, I got a job.”

She is staying remarkably cheerful. She’s looking forward to college in the fall, and plans to become a registered nurse. And when she’s done with school, she wants to make her life here.

“I love Maine, even if it’s cold,” she says with a smile.

Let’s hope it doesn’t get too cold after July 1.