Portland was able to accommodate the 28 asylum seekers – eight families – who arrived Friday without having to open any overflow facilities.

Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director, said the city expects to receive a few more families this weekend. The city has not been alerted about any additional groups en route from San Antonio – a transportation hub for many migrants who enter the United States through the southern border.

A group of asylum seekers boards a taxi after getting off a bus in Portland on Friday. Image from video by News Center Maine WCSH/WLBZ

“I imagine there will be a couple more tomorrow,” Grondin said.

Federal officials say that 170 African migrants, primarily from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had been arrested in the Del Rio, Texas, area since the beginning of October.

City Manager Jon Jennings said that based on his conversations with San Antonio officials about 70 migrants plan to come to Portland, though the actual number could be higher or lower than that.

Grondin does not expect the city will need to open any overflow facilities over the weekend. Those facilities, gymnasiums at the Salvation Army and the YMCA of Southern Maine, each can hold up to 75 people. A warming center at the city’s family shelter on Chestnut Street has a capacity of 35 people and should be able to accommodate the new arrivals through the weekend, she said.


The 10 people who had been staying in the warming center were moved into four units at the family shelter that just became available, Grondin said.

Some of the newly arrived migrants were being placed in housing in Scarborough, though Grondin did not know the specifics. She said the housing effort was being coordinated by the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, whose director, Mufalo Chitam, could not be reached Friday night for an interview.

The number of arrivals expected this time is much smaller than the large influx the city received over the summer, but it’s still more than the few families a week the city typically receives.

Starting in June, nearly 450 asylum seekers, mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, arrived in Portland after crossing the border into Texas. Asylum seekers can select their own designation, and a local charity in Texas bought bus tickets for those who wanted to come to Portland, which is known as a welcoming, safe city with an established and growing immigrant community.

The unexpected arrival prompted the city to declare an emergency and open the Portland Expo as a temporary shelter.

What followed was an outpouring of public support, with over 1,000 people signing up to volunteer at the shelter and help in anyway they could. The city received over $900,000 in private donations to help care for the asylum seekers, including pregnant women and young children, who had made an arduous, life-threatening journey through South American, Central America and Mexico to reach the U.S.


An intensive effort was made to find housing, both permanent and temporary, through a newly created host home program coordinated in part by the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

Of the 41 families that remained in the shelter when it closed, only 10 returned to the Portland’s family shelter on Chestnut Street and the others were able to find permanent housing.

The city recently received over $800,000 in funding from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to offset the cost of running the shelter through the end of June.

After the shelter at the Expo was closed in mid-August, the arrival rate of asylum seekers returned to normal, with only a few families arriving each week.

It’s unclear why another wave, albeit much smaller than the one during the summer, is coming in.

Michael S. McCarthy, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office in Boston, said federal officials are in the process of studying the migration trends and fluctuations.


“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 Thursday. “These numbers decreased with the enforcement efforts of the government of Mexico, Migrant Protection Protocols, and other international agreements.”

He added, “We have recently seen a small increase (in African migrants) since then and are assessing intelligence sources to determine any causes,” he said.

McCarthy said the Migrant Protection Protocols, which require asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until they pass a credible fear interview, is only being applied to Spanish-speaking migrants. The program is designed to reduce illegal immigration and to discourage false asylum claims.

McCarthy said that since the beginning of October, 170 African migrants had been arrested in the Del Rio, Texas, area. Through the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 1,170 African migrants had been arrested in that area.

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