AUGUSTA — More than 50 members of the clergy and others rallied at the State House on Wednesday in support of the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers to immigrate to the United States, and against the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Speakers at the Hall of Flags rally urged government officials not to cut assistance and other programs that help immigrants, and urged churches and others to help them adjust when they arrive in Maine.

As of Wednesday, 198 religious leaders and clergy from across Maine had signed a statement of support that reads:

“As faith leaders of Maine, we affirm the work, dignity and human rights of all persons, regardless of their nationality, religion, or legal status. We stand with the immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in our state, as well as those yet to come. We commit to love our neighbors and advocate for policies that protect the most vulnerable among us. We oppose the arrest, detainment, and deportation of undocumented immigrants. We call on people of faith and conscience to join us.”

President Trump issued an executive order that among other things would temporarily ban immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries. The immigration order has been on hold pending legal challenges.

The Trump administration has also stepped up the deportation of illegal immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes.

Gov. Paul LePage has said he supports Trump’s travel ban. He also announced last year that he wants to suspend Maine’s participation in the federal refugee resettlement program.

LePage’s budget proposal for the next two years called for blocking access to General Assistance and other welfare programs for immigrants who have not yet received asylum in the United States.

The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, of HopeGateWay United Methodist Church in Portland, called on the government to preserve funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, General Assistance, Supplemental Security Income and other programs that some immigrants rely on while they get settled.

Ewing-Merrill said it’s not true that if the state neglects its responsibility that nonprofit agencies and faith communities can pick up the slack.

“We’re doing as much as we can and we are glad to help because it’s our call as people of faith,” he said. “But it’s the responsibility of the state to provide for the common good. The common good is everyone.”

Kathy Kilrain Del Rio, who works with the Maine Women’s Lobby, watched the rally Wednesday.

“Right now the Legislature is deciding what it will do with the state budget, and the governor has proposed significant cuts to programs that help immigrants and all people in Maine,” Kilrain Del Rio said. “It’s important for the clergy to speak up because budgets are as much about our choices and moral values as they are about money. It’s important for voices of faith to speak up about moral issues, and this certainly is one.”

Ewing-Merrill also said that while signing a statement in support of refugees and immigrants helps, people need to do more.

“We need to talk about where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “One of the ways … is by assisting immigrants when they arrive.”

It’s one thing to say they are welcome, he said, but immigrants also need help finding housing, food and medical care.

The Rev. Nathan Ndayiziga, a United Methodist minister and immigrant from Burundi, said he hopes the United States and Maine will continue to welcome asylum-seekers and their families and fund programs to support immigrants.

“I would like to let you know that Maine has given us a warm welcome and we do appreciate all the services you provided to us,” he said. “We were embraced by the great love you did show to all new Mainers, though we were strangers to you.”

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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