President Biden last week raised the cap on refugees coming to the United States to 62,500 over the next six months. While the decision fulfills the United States’ important humanitarian mission, the resettlement of refugees also provides significant economic benefits to places in our country whose population is aging.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

Maine is a good example. Its declining population and aging workforce have significant implications for the state’s economic wellness. The question one must ask is how many of these 62,500 refugees will make it to Maine this year? It may change everything if our governor asks for these refugees to make Maine their home. They will build our economy, increase our population and diversify our state.

Immigrants have been critical to Maine’s economy in recent years, filling the gaps left by aging native-born Mainers. Immigrants do work at production, transportation and material moving. Over 4% of workers in the Maine labor force are immigrants. More than one-quarter of workers in Maine’s mining, quarry, oil and gas extraction sector are immigrants.

The immigrants’ contribution to the economy is often overpowered by the fear of some native-born Mainers who feel that immigrants are a burden to the state. Data shows that is not at all the case. Nearly 60% of the immigrants in Maine are naturalized United States citizens and have all the rights and responsibilities every American has. Ninety percent of these immigrants communicate in English, including reading, writing and speaking, while also speaking several other languages from their native countries – or even other countries they’ve lived before moving here.

Let’s not mix refugees and asylum-seekers. Refugees are permitted to work immediately after they arrive. On the other hand, asylum-seekers might wait for years to get their paperwork processed and approved. Refugees often wait at the refugee camps for years and the lucky ones, fewer than only 9%, will have their cases advance to resettlement.

The refugees the United States plans to resettle this year are the same ones who have been impacted by former President Donald Trump’s travel ban. They will probably be coming from Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Sudan. They’ve patiently waited until America returns to its tradition of welcoming the most vulnerable. That day just arrived. I feel that today we can show that we are a welcoming nation again. Not only on the federal level but also on the state level.

President Biden’s policy to bring these new refugees to the country is a golden chance for Maine to lift itself from the bottom of the list of states with aging populations. Therefore, our governor should call on President Biden and the federal government to resettle these refugees in our state, as we do need to meet the demographic challenges in our state as well as growing our workforce.

These refugees deserve a hero’s welcome. They have not only waited a long time, but they’ve also not given up on the American dream. They deserve to build their American dream in our beautiful state of Maine.

In honor of my naturalization during her State of the State address in 2020, Gov. Janet Mills said, “Abdi, you fought to get here, you belong here and we welcome you here.”

Those words were unexpected, but have changed me forever. When our leaders mention our names and welcome us with a smile and open arms, that’s what makes America an exceptional place and its leaders true patriots. Our state can be a good example for other states to show that immigrants can be a change for good.

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