A week after the city of Portland turned a basketball arena into an emergency shelter for asylum-seeking refugees, a very positive community response is taking shape.

Local governments in neighboring communities have pledged support, working with landlords and developers to house 100 families, as well as committing to long-term cooperation on housing and homelessness more broadly. Church groups and nonprofits have volunteered to help the city manage the surprise influx of immigrants, and more than 2,500 people have donated more than $400,000 to the city, to help it offset its costs.

While this is heartening, there is still more that should be done to manage the situation, especially by the state government.

The Legislature went home Thursday morning without enacting a change to the welfare law that prohibits communities from using their General Assistance funds to help migrants like the ones at the Portland Expo. A 2015 regulation prohibits people from receiving state aid for food or housing until after they file an application for asylum with an immigration court, a process that can take a year.

The debate over the bill bogged down on familiar arguments, often based on false characterizations.

To set the record straight:

There is no “invasion,” and the city is not “overrun.” The number of people who have registered with the city since June 9 is around 250 people, all families, most with children. Some have already left the city, heading for Canada or other parts of the country where they have family or other connections.

The food and shelter they are receiving is not being taken away from someone else in need. The immigrants are here as a result of political oppression and civil unrest in their home countries, not because the mayor of Portland said something on Maine Public Radio.

Since the Legislature has adjourned, it’s up to the Mills administration to make sure that the smooth response continues. Restoring the General Assistance regulations to the pre-2015 language would allow more communities to take a role in this important effort.

 

 


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