Another wave of asylum seekers is due to begin arriving in Portland Friday morning and the number could be higher than initially expected, city officials said Thursday.

About 25 asylum seekers – most of them from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo – who left the southern border town of Del Rio, Texas, will begin arriving in Portland by bus around 7 a.m. Friday, City Manager Jon Jennings said at a news conference Thursday. Six more asylum seekers are expected to arrive Saturday.

Initial reports had the influx of migrants at about 70, but Jennings suggested Thursday that the number could go higher. He told reporters that 150 asylum seekers have been allowed to cross the Mexican border and released into the United States.

“The preferred destination for the vast majority of those folks, who came through Del Rio, Texas, is Maine. We are seen as a welcoming community,” Jennings told News Center Maine (WCSH/WLBZ), noting that does not mean all of the latest migrants will come to Portland.

About 450 migrants came to the city over the summer and were placed in an emergency shelter at the Portland Expo for several weeks until housing could be found for them.

Jennings told News Center Maine that he wants to assure taxpayers that Portland will not be overwhelmed by this latest influx. He said the city has the resources and funds to handle this latest surge.

“There was a lot of anxiety created in the city over the summer and it’s manageable right now,” he said.

He said that asylum seekers will be housed at the Oxford Street Shelter – the city’s designated homeless shelter – while families will be placed at the Chestnut Street Shelter.

The gym at the Portland branch of the YMCA of Southern Maine on Forest Avenue will be used as an overflow shelter, but people will not be allowed to stay there during the day. The Portland Expo can no longer be used as a shelter since it serves as the home of the Maine Red Claws basketball team.

Jessica Grondin, spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said meals will be provided by a variety of sources. During the day, churches offer lunch and the Preble Street Resource Center has a soup kitchen.

“During the day, we rely on our community partners, churches, the library. It’s important to remember that we’ve consistently served asylum seekers all year-round for the last several years. This is not new,” Grondin said in an email Thursday night.

Grondin said the city is actively monitoring the situation at the southern border and will make its community partners aware of the asylum seekers headed to Maine.

“We are not yet aware of big numbers like over the summer, so we’re not calling this an emergency at this time,” she said.

Grondin said Portland already has alerted its immigrant community partners about the situation as well as neighboring communities in the event they have to be called upon for assistance.

“We only have so many resources in Portland,” Grondin said.

Michael S. McCarthy, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Boston, said that asylum seekers can choose their destination city. The United States government does not dictate where they go.

Asylum seekers are typically transported to destination cities by religious or charitable organizations, he said.

Asylum seekers who want to gain entrance to the U.S. undergo a credible fear interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to prove that they are in fear for their life or are in immediate danger.

Under the Migrant Protection Protocols recently imposed by the Department of Homeland Security, the government allows non-Spanish speaking migrants who demonstrate credible fear to enter the country, while Spanish-speaking migrants are required to stay in Mexico while awaiting approval of their application for asylum.

The Migrant Protection Protocols program is designed to reduce illegal immigration and to discourage false asylum claims.

McCarthy said the U.S. is in the process of figuring out why the number of migrants from Africa surged in June, decreased in the weeks that followed, and now is seeing another uptick.

“During the summer months, the number of people from countries in Africa peaked along with other countries during the humanitarian crisis,” McCarthy said in an email. “These numbers decreased with the enforcement efforts of the government of Mexico, Migrant Protection Protocols, and other international agreements.

“We have recently seen a small increase since then and are assessing intelligence sources to determine any causes.”

 

 

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