The many trials and tribulations of asylum-seekers housed at the Portland Expo have finally come to an end, no thanks to the federal government.

After several months sleeping on cots in a crowded gymnasium, about 400 people, mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, vacated the gymnasium as of Aug. 15 so the Maine Red Claws basketball club can prepare for its season.

The Expo served as temporary housing for families who are now headed to various, less cavernous, forms of housing around the state.

The lucky ones have been taken under the protective wing of local families who have opened their homes, and hearts. Others are headed to apartments paid for with taxpayer and donated dollars. The remaining two dozen are less lucky migrants, and have moved into Portland’s homeless shelters.

The city, led by capable City Manager Jon Jennings, has done an admirable job of dealing with the situation, foisted upon it by desperate leaders of cities along the southern U.S. border trying to deal with people seeking asylum.

While many southern Maine towns and groups have helped, the outpouring of financial donations and tangible aid by individuals has been remarkable and should be a point of pride for all Mainers.


It’s been an arduous process for all involved, and we must not forget the stress and confusion these immigrants feel as they leave their homelands for what they hope will be a better life in America. Can you imagine trying to sleep with 400 others for weeks at a time on an uncomfortable cot in an uncomfortable gym, let alone making the perilous journey through Central America to get here in the first place?

This stressful scene, unfortunately, is not unique to southern Maine. Municipalities around the country are similarly facing an influx of immigrants allowed to flow across the southern border. The immigration system is broken, as President Trump has been saying for years, and the resulting chaos is affecting real people, including the noble folks in our own community left to figure out how to handle the many new arrivals.

The policy chaos is affecting immigrants, too. They must be thinking twice about moving to a country that can’t even get the basics right. Many people say they should be thankful for whatever help they get, but, really, they’re receiving a terrible introduction to life in America, and all Americans should be embarrassed.

It wasn’t always like this. We used to have an orderly immigration process. Ellis Island in New York was a well-oiled migration machine back in the 1800s and early 1900s, when many fled Europe’s problems. What happened? Politics happened. A desire for cheap labor by Republicans and the promise of easy immigrant votes for Democrats happened. Blame can be shared in this nonpartisan, decades-long debacle.

But the federal government, and it alone, is to blame for what ails us. Our spineless and shameless senators and representatives, including Maine’s four representatives, are allowing a porous border and chaotic immigration policy. If we had proper leadership, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

The nation’s leaders alone can rectify the situation by adopting policy that would create a real border, figure out how many immigrants should be allowed in annually and better define the asylum process. Doing so would ensure future migrants don’t have to live on some basketball court somewhere, relying on compassionate locals to supply their basic needs.

John Balentine, a former managing editor of the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

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