Let’s begin by acknowledging the good.

In January, Maine became the 19th American state to create a statewide office dedicated to the support of immigrants and newcomers to our state.

This is an immensely positive development with dynamic potential for our communities.

As recently as last May, commenting on extensive Press Herald reporting on the plight of asylum seekers striving to find their way in Portland, this editorial board wrote: “In recent times, we have watched the state be permissive or compassionate in spirit but more or less derelict in practice. Maine does not keep tabs on the number of asylum seekers who come into the state, nor does it  have anything like a centralized office for the administration of resources to immigrants.”

The plan for the Office of New Americans, called for by scores of advocacy, business and education organizations for successive years, was reportedly informed by some 100 outreach meetings and conversations with more than 800 people all across the state.

Its responsibilities are many and serious: to collect, analyze and report on information about Maine’s immigrant population; to simplify pathways for immigrants to achieve education and professional accreditation; to promote the hiring, retention and promotion of eligible immigrant workers by Maine businesses; to support expanded legal services; and to work with all of the other entities – official and unofficial – that already offer support to immigrants, such as federal and municipal bodies, schools, community groups and more.


Done well, this is the beneficial work that will keep on giving.

Integration, the catch-all goal for the work the office will do, can have a chain reaction capable of vivifying Maine’s communities, labor force and economy as a whole.

Attempts to detract from this work, using lazy xenophobic framing and relying heavily on a crippling “us vs. them” mindset tend to be laden down in racism, isolationist misinformation or both.

And there have been many such attempts in the past two weeks alone of people seizing on this commonsense policy development for scaremongering ends.

“We need to take care of our people first,” one state lawmaker said in testimony critical of the establishment of the office, as if everybody in Maine had the same definition of “our.” Another described the proposal as “tone-deaf” and suggested Maine “look inward.” A third lawmaker expressed nervousness in testimony because of strong criticism from her constituents for her co-sponsorship of the bill behind it.

Respectfully, it’s tone-deaf to advocate against the creation of an inexpensive office with an excellent chance of a monumental and sustained return on investment. This office does not take away from other people.


Furthermore, a lot of the power of the Office of New Americans is in the message that it sends and the commitment that it telegraphs. It’s not surprising that, in 2024, there are people who wish to distort that message and register their discomfort at what they would prefer the world looked at as some form of calculated onslaught by asylum seekers. It’s happening all over the country.

The national outlet Breitbart ran a story about the Maine State Housing Authority’s asylum housing project, saying “illegals” were being given free housing while Americans go homeless. Donald Trump Jr. would go on to repeat the claim at a rally in New Hampshire. Never mind that asylum seekers have a legal basis for being here.

Here’s the truth, hard as it seems for some to accept: Building housing for new Mainers is part of the housing response, not something carried out in competition with it. You can’t complain about every effort to build more housing, then complain when people don’t have housing, and you certainly can’t blame asylum seekers for problems created by years of bad policy.

The same calculus applies to the responsibility to demystify and deliver public services, as the office undertakes to do; it applies to the the 2 + 2 = 5 effect of collaboration and coordination when it comes to simply helping people to figure things out, to do beneficial and productive things for themselves, their families and, in turn, for the places where they live.

“Our state cannot wish away this pattern of migration,” we wrote back in May. “What Maine can do is better prepare for it and position itself to take the appropriate advantage of it.”

It should be encouraging to every resident that we appear to be in the process of doing that now.

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