Gov. Janet Mills took the first major step Wednesday to create a state office to assist the growing number of immigrants in Maine.

Mills signed an executive order directing the Office of Policy Innovation and the Future to come up with a plan for an Office of New Americans by January 2024. The new office will focus on incorporating immigrants into Maine’s workforce and communities to strengthen the state’s economy.

“For generations, immigrants have brought their skills, education and ability to Maine to build a better life for themselves and their families, contribute to the vitality of our communities, and become the workforce that our employers in Maine desperately need. This is as true today as it was a century ago,” Mills said in a statement. “My order will develop a plan for a new office to help us ensure that Maine is fully drawing on the talents and skills of those who want to live and work in and contribute to our great state. This is a critical step for Maine’s economic future as we address our workforce shortage and support our communities and businesses.”

In recent years, the city of Portland has shouldered most of the responsibility for assisting new Mainers, especially asylum seekers who have come from unstable countries in Africa and elsewhere. Mayor Kate Snyder welcomed the news.

“I’m very happy the governor is moving in this direction,” Snyder said in an interview Wednesday. “I know the plan calls for a six-month period … to develop what that office will look like, so we have a little ways to go before we have a plan to react to. But I’m encouraged. The city of Portland will be involved in informing the plan and I think it’s absolutely a move in the right direction.”

More than 1,600 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland just since Jan. 1. The city has been asking since 2021 for more state-level coordination to respond, and Snyder said the asylum seekers and new Mainers need help with learning English, housing and education.


While details of the new office’s scope remain to be worked out, the mayor hopes it might help address those needs and build a database – collecting information from municipalities that administer General Assistance and work with families and individuals in need – to track where they have gotten help.

“I definitely think one initial element would be a state-level database for information tracking,” Snyder said.

One of the biggest challenges in recent years has been housing. Portland and surrounding communities have had to use hotel rooms and the Portland Expo as temporary options to house asylum seekers for several months upon their arrival.

Complicating matters is the fact that asylum seekers are not allowed to apply for temporary work authorization for six months, which leaves them with no way to earn income. Mills and members of Maine’s Congressional delegation have lobbied the federal government to expedite work authorization, but so far have been unsuccessful.

Asked what the creation of a new office might cost, the governor’s spokesman, Ben Goodman, said it’s still too early to say. He said once the plan is developed and presented, “the administration would then submit a proposal to the Legislature for funding to create the office as part of future budget discussions.”

When the time comes for legislative approval, some Republicans could balk.


House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said Mills’ executive order is an admission that Maine has a crisis on its hands.

“It’s largely created by a failure of the federal government at the border, and exacerbated by leftist politicians in Maine who have written checks they can’t cash that are drawing these asylum seekers here,” he said.

Sen. Lisa Keim, the assistant Senate Republican leader, said Mills’ executive order is the wrong approach.

“Mainers are compassionate; we want to help those who need assistance beginning a new life and we welcome people to join us in building strong, healthy communities. However, the current influx of migrants into Maine is an out-of-control crisis fueled by failure to act in Washington,” she said. “Pretending a new government office can somehow create resources to handle this influx, rather than push back on the Biden administration for their failure to address the root problem is disingenuous and unhelpful.

“Maine people cannot keep the pace with housing, health care, workforce development and education needs of the thousands who will continue to arrive here if the real issue of border control isn’t addressed.”

Mills’ office said the goal is to figure out the best way to harness the economic potential of New Mainers and it has set a target of attracting 75,000 new workers by 2029.


“As we face critical workforce shortages, we believe there is tremendous opportunity in creating an office that will help our state effectively incorporate immigrants into our workforce and our communities,” said Hannah Pingree, director of the Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

Already, the Mills administration is working with stakeholders, including the Immigrant Resources Center of Maine and Prosperity Maine, and with the local and state chambers of commerce.

Claude Rwaganje, executive director of Prosperity Maine, said a statewide office would be “a dream come true.”

“We have advocated for the creation of such an office to help guide immigrants into Maine’s workforce, and are grateful to Gov. Mills for taking this action today,” he said. “We support this initiative and look forward to helping (the Office of Policy Innovation and the Future) create the strongest possible plan for the governor’s review. Together we can achieve a lot.”

The executive order also enables Maine to become the 19th state to join the Office of New Americans State Network, a consortium of states with dedicated offices or staff coordinating immigrant integration. That network is led by the World Education Services and the American Immigration Council.


Staff Writers Rachel Ohm and Randy Billings contributed to this report.

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