You have probably heard this argument: We can’t afford to help immigrants when there are people who were born here who are also in need.

But the people who say it have got it backward: Because we have people in need, we can’t afford not to help immigrants.

Thats why we support L.D. 1317, a bill which would restore eligibility for basic services administered by the state to people who are in Maine seeking asylum.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, would restore state policy that existed before 2011, when this group of immigrants was made ineligible as a result of welfare reforms passed by the last administration. People seeking asylum, who cannot legally work for six months or longer, could not receive Medicaid, food stamps or help with housing. The idea was to free up more resources to care for needy native-born residents.

But there is no sign that these policies had any such effect. Even though unemployment has dropped to the lowest rate in decades, childhood poverty, hunger and other measures of poverty persist. The demand for shelter by people who are homeless has not fallen with the unemployment rate, and the people seeking shelter are almost all native-born citizens – exactly the people who were supposed to have benefited from the cuts to immigrant services.

A low unemployment rate is an indicator not only of a strong economy, but also of an economic problem – a workforce shortage – that won’t get better on its own.

Maine is one of the few states that records more deaths each year than births. The only reason that our population is stagnant and not actually declining is in-migration. We are also the oldest state in the country based on median age. If people age out of the workforce and no one is there to take their place, our economy will shrink, and we will be less capable than we are now of caring for the people who the last administration labeled “truly needy.”

In the face of hysterical rhetoric from anti-immigration extremists, lawmakers should take the opportunity this bill provides to speak up for Maine’s future.

Asylum seekers are not “illegal immigrants,” as some claim. They are legally present in the United States while federal immigration authorities review their claim that they are escaping persecution, torture or death in their home country. The application for asylum is complex and can be difficult to complete even for people with strong English skills, but it’s even harder for people who are just learning the language.

Asylum seekers can’t work for 125 days after submitting their application, which in the best case scenario means months without the ability to pay for food or a place to live. Ineligibility for MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid program) means they may not be healthy enough to function when their work permit arrives.

Providing people with a rent voucher, food stamps and the ability to see a doctor while they are getting on their feet is not just the morally right thing to do but also makes sense financially.

Maine will not be able to overcome the foreseeable consequences of our aging population without growing the workforce. Helping people settle here is one of the best ways to do that.

We can’t afford not to.