According to the LePage administration, the small number of asylum seekers in Maine are such a drain on state finances that they should be turned away for aid at city hall, and forced to use shelters and soup kitchens while they work their way through the long and complicated asylum process.

It’s simply not right to cut off aid to asylum seekers, often skilled and educated immigrants who have endured much and have a lot to give their new home. And after the Legislature passed a bill last year ensuring that immigrants here legally may receive General Assistance, it doesn’t follow the law, either.

The law, L.D. 369, was written broadly but clearly to cover two groups of asylum seekers, those “lawfully present in the United States,” which under the widely accepted federal definition means those who have been granted asylum as well as those who have filed an application for asylum, and those “pursuing a lawful process to apply for immigration relief.”

However, the rules conceived by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services rewrite the definitions of the two categories, placing people whose eligibility for aid was never in question – such as refugees – in the first category, while contorting the definition of the latter category to exclude those who are taking good-faith, active steps toward asylum.

In essence, the DHHS wants to cut off some asylum seekers from this vital aid – not cash but vouchers, which pay mainly for housing – because they are not moving quickly enough toward asylum status, something that is hardly their fault.

Non-citizens are given one year to apply for asylum after their arrival in the United States. Most come on short-term visas, so they have from the time the visa expires until their first year runs out before they are subject to deportation.

However, if they take out an application for asylum, they are considered – by everyone but the DHHS – to be here legally, even if they have not finished and submitted the application by the time their first year in the country ends.

That is often the case. Filling out the application requires dozens of hours of work, overseen by a lawyer, if it is to be successful. The stakes are high, too; a small mistake can be fatal to prospects for asylum.

But under the DHHS rules, people struggling through this process, who under federal law already cannot work, would not get any aid, either, until their application is formally accepted, creating a huge gap during which asylum seekers would have few options for obtaining basic necessities.

The U.S. immigration process is too slow and cumbersome, particularly considering the language and cultural barriers in play. It is unfair to both asylum seekers who want to start a new life and the states that have to support them while they are unable to work.

But the new DHHS rules won’t solve that problem. They’ll just shift it somewhere else, and make it harder for asylum seekers to get to a place where they can really contribute.