BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Monday approved hiring a cultural broker to assist asylum-seekers, and establishment of a community support fund for them.

School Board member Sarah Singer, who is also a member of the town’s ad-hoc immigration task force and a coordinator for the Emergency Action Network, said there are 18 asylum-seekers now living at Brunswick Landing and four more are soon expected.

In the coming weeks, Singer said, the town is expecting a total of about 40 asylum-seekers. They are some of the more than 300 who arrived in Portland in June from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many have been staying in an emergency shelter at the Portland Exposition Building, which is leased to the Maine Red Claws basketball team starting Aug. 15.

Town Manager John Eldridge said he hopes the community support fund will function much like one established by the city of Portland, where community members can donate money to provide shelter and housing assistance as well as basic necessities for families that have relocated to the town.

He also said there is still an issues surrounding coordination of volunteers, and that efforts are being made to establish a welcome center where asylum-seekers could have access to resources.

Eldridge said he is “fairly confident” the town will be able to establish a limited community center at the Recreation Center at Brunswick Landing.


According to Singer, the urgency for a broker is necessary in order for asylum-seekers to establish trust and allow families to begin talking about the traumas that they faced to get to Maine from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She also said that having a cultural broker in town would “alleviate the grave concern” that she has about translators missing things that are important for health and safety and handling immigration hearings, since the volunteers assisting are not equipped or knowledgeable on the immigration process.

“We have a family here communicating through Portuguese and French translators,” Singer said. “One family expressed an urgency to get back to Portland for what we thought was for immigrations hearings, but when a broker stepped in, we learned that he needed to see a doctor. We did not understand this for 10 days.”

Councilor Jane Millett agreed with Singer about the need for a broker. “It’s been a month,” she said, “and we are not making progress until someone is on board.”

The votes to hire a broker and establish a community fund were unanimous. Councilor Dan Jenkins was absent.

Councilor David Watson said he was “uncomfortable with what is taking place for many reasons, but if I am true to myself, the abuse of these people has to stop. It is clear that there is a linguistics barrier, which is the majority of the issue. I hope that we can address these issues in a proper manner and hope that we will succeed.”


Councilor Stephen Walker said hiring a cultural broker could be an investment that has potential for a great payout. He cited a 2016 report, “New Americans in Portland, ME,” by New American Economy on the immigrant community’s contributions to state and community taxes, and Social Security.

“They contributed $57 million to Social Security, which they did not reap benefits of,” Walker said. “And that’s not to mention all the businesses they started and all the staffing they provide to businesses and restaurants. They’re a real driver of the economy. This is a real pittance that we’re investing for what could be a great payout if we do establish a community here for these folks.”

In other business, the council voted to split the additional $350,000 revenue sharing surplus so that $215,000 would be used to reduce the tax rate from $19.86 per $1,000 of valuation to $19.76. That reduces the tax increase from 4.97% to 4.47%. For a house valued at $200,000, the property tax bill would be $3,954 instead of $3,972.

Of the remaining $135,000, $100,000 will be allocated to paving and $35,000 will be placed in the town’s contingency fund.

Councilor James Mason suggested allocating up to $20,000 of the funds to Curtis Memorial Library, calling the library a “jewel of the town” that provides many services and has already worked to assist asylum-seekers.

But councilors ultimately voted not to allocate funds to individual departments.

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