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South Portland City Council recently sent a letter to Sen. Angus King, Sen. Susan Collins, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and Congressman Jared Golden to support and urge the passage of the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization act of 2023. Currently under federal law, asylum seekers have to wait over six months to be given work authorization after applying for asylum. With the passage of this act, asylum seekers would be able to work as soon as 30 days after applying for asylum.

The long waiting period that is currently in place has been criticized for leaving asylum seekers helpless and unable to support themselves during the wait. The waiting interval has also been criticized for denying the economy valuable workers during that period.

South Portland has a shortage of workers. “Anyone who visits can see “help wanted” signs in our service stations, hardware stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and even at city hall,” the letter reads. “Asylum seekers can fill these positions and more, and help Maine grow its economy.”

Additionally, the city has also provided temporary housing to thousands of asylum seekers in multiple hotels and permanent shelters. These seekers cannot support themselves until they are allowed to work.

“Providing services to people who are prohibited from working strains our municipal budget and imposes an unnecessary and unreasonable burden on our taxpayers,” reads the letter. “Asylum seekers are motivated and want to support themselves and their families. They should be able to work.”

The letter was signed by Mayor Katherine Lewis as well as the other six members of the South Portland City Council: Jocelyn Leighton, Misha Pride, Linda Cohen, Deqa Dhalac, Richard Matthews, and Natalie West.

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