I couldn’t disagree more with Fox commentator Laura Ingraham’s and our former governor’s rant about Portland’s welcome to asylum seekers (Feb. 1).

I work with refugees and asylum seekers every day and see as many new Mainers at my church’s pantry on Tuesday morning as I see old Mainers on Sunday morning.

Guess what? The children of those old Mainers, by and large, have moved out of state and are no longer here to take their place. We need new young families, hardworking, Social Security-paying people with skills who are willing to take on the jobs that need to get done and lift our local economy, not to mention to serve those seniors I mentioned a second ago.

The solution is in the immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers right in front of us. Not one of the new Mainers I have met wants to eat in the soup kitchen, live in the shelter, use the emergency room for medical care or go to churches and other groups to beg for help. They have no choice but to do these things because they are not allowed to work for at least six months after filing their applications, which themselves can take many years – and much expense – to get processed.

This is a crazy system. The asylum seekers do not want to be on the dole. They want to have meaningful work and provide a new life for their families and kids. If they have gotten here, they have already shown their ability to do great things.

Here’s an idea for immigration reform: Let them work. Give everyone who arrives here an immediate work permit and help them find jobs with benefits. The demand for General Assistance and other services would drop. Dignity and pride would rise, and all of us would benefit.

The Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh

dean, Cathedral Church of St. Luke


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