Nearly 70 African migrants seeking asylum in the United States are expected to arrive in Portland this week. They’ve got nowhere else to go.

The United States, once a beacon and safe haven for oppressed and dispossessed people around the world, is being closed off by the Trump administration. Migrants are being turned away at every opportunity, and those fortunate to get through are in many cases met coldly.

Not in Maine, of course, which just this summer helped find housing for more than 400 migrants who arrived here unexpectedly after crossing the border. It was a tremendous effort and an uplifting showcase of humanity.

But few communities throughout the country are as generous to asylum seekers, who must wait as long as six months to work and thus need support while getting settled. Maine’s experience – and all other historical evidence in regard to immigration – shows the investment will pay off. But many people don’t see it that way, and thus asylum seekers who can’t get to a place like Portland are left to eke by somewhere else while they await a decision.

Allowing the migrants to work while the asylum process is underway, as Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, has proposed, makes perfect sense, especially for places like Maine that need workers.

However, the Trump administration is trying to go the other way, forcing asylum seekers to wait longer for work permits.


The administration has also made it harder to apply for and ultimately gain asylum, in addition to the unprecedented family detentions and child separations that aim to keep others from coming here to claim asylum – a defined right under international and U.S. law.

President Trump has also, in the middle of a worldwide refugee crisis, dismantled the refugee resettlement program. October was the first month in memory that the U.S. has not resettled even one refugee. Until Trump, the U.S. accepted more refugees than all other countries combined, a policy that has reinvigorated our country again and again.

The administration says the cuts to immigration are intended to keep us safe from crime and terrorism, though immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans and refugees and asylum seekers are the ones running from terrorism, not committing it. They say our economy can’t handle them, when all evidence shows immigration is a net economic plus.

Hundreds of emails from Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller perhaps point to the real reason behind these moves. The emails show that in 2015-16 Miller was rubbing elbows with the racist purveyors of white supremacist ideology – the idea that the success of the United States can be attributed solely to its white citizens. He comes across as obsessed not with restricting all immigration but with ending non-white immigration.

Remember that when you hear opponents to asylum in Maine claim we can’t do anything for migrants until we have helped others, including seniors and veterans. They are in many cases the same people who in recent years said nothing as then-Gov. Paul LePage withheld important funding for senior housing and generally failed to address in any significant way the challenges facing the state’s aging population.

They are the same people who continue to push for cuts in health care and food assistance critical to the well-being of, among others, veterans and seniors. They say nothing while President Trump denigrates veterans and civil servants on a daily basis.

It is in Maine’s interest to give people a hand up when they need it. That’s true for asylum seekers, seniors, veterans – everyone who calls our state home.

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