Asylum seekers are moved from the Portland Expo onto buses that will take them to hotels in Lewiston and Freeport in August 2023. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — A legislative committee has advanced a proposal to create an Office of New Americans in state government to help support Maine’s growing immigrant population and communities that absorb the new arrivals.

The State and Local Government Committee voted 6-3 Tuesday in support of L.D. 2167, which would create a two-person office housed within the Governor’s Office of Policy, Innovation and the Future that would be tasked with improving the economic and civic integration of immigrants to the state. Five Democrats and one independent voted in favor, while the three opponents are Republicans.

The bill now faces further votes in the House and Senate.

“This bill is the result of hundreds of hours of work from folks in the Governor’s Office, business groups and members of Maine’s immigrant communities,” said Rep. Deqa Dhalac, D-South Portland, the bill’s sponsor, in a written statement.

“I am incredibly grateful to all those who took the time to collaborate on this proposal, which I believe will usher in a new era of opportunity for those born in Maine and for those who chose to make this state their home.”

Maine is home to more than 56,000 foreign-born people – a number that has grown from about 36,700 in 2000, according to a plan released by the Mills administration last month for the creation of the new state office.


An executive order from Gov. Janet Mills last year that directed her office to come up with the plan made Maine the 19th state to enroll in the Office of New Americans State Network, a consortium of U.S. states that maintain dedicated offices or staff for coordinating immigrant integration. Other states that joined the network last year included Utah, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

State-level offices of new Americans differ in their structure, priorities and budgets around the country, but all are set up with the mission of promoting the economic and civic integration of immigrants.

The Maine office would focus on strengthening English-language acquisition opportunities for immigrants, building workforce pathways and support for entrepreneurs, and improving coordination of organizations and entities that support immigrants.

It would also track federal immigration policy and support collaboration with Maine’s congressional delegation on policies that benefit the state. And it would improve Maine’s data collection regarding the state’s immigrant populations.

A spokesperson for House Democrats said the bill is expected to have a small fiscal note to cover the cost of the two staff members – less than the four recommended in the original Mills administration plan – but it is not available yet.

The committee held a public hearing on the proposal last week and also gathered dozens of submissions of written testimony. Business owners, municipal leaders and immigrants’ advocates have all expressed support, while some Republican lawmakers voiced opposition at last week’s meeting.


Supporters argued the office could help smaller communities cope with influxes of immigrants and help employers by integrating immigrants into Maine’s workforce. The office would help connect new arrivals with professional skills and experience into accreditation programs so they can qualify to continue their careers here, proponents say.

Dhalac, who is from Somalia and was the first Somali-American mayor in the country, touted the economic benefit of welcoming new immigrants, saying in written testimony they are critical in a state with an aging population and workforce shortages.

“Those of us who have made the decision to leave our home countries to make Maine our new home, either by force or of our own choice, have always had a deep desire to work and be part of a community,” she said. “We came to this country, to Maine, with the hope of helping our neighbors, supporting our families and creating a meaningful life here.”

Some opponents have said the proposal diverts resources away from helping Maine people to supporting immigrants.

“You simply cannot have an open border and generous welfare state,” said Rep. Mike Soboleski, R-Phillips. “It will eventually collapse the system. Maine taxpayers are already overtaxed and struggling to make ends meet with day to day costs exploded by inflation and overspending in Washington, D.C. Our people do not deserve and cannot bear the burden of supporting an additional 75,000 people in this state.”

“We need to take care of our people first,” he said.

Rep. Katrina Smith, R-Palermo, said she is worried about the allocation of taxpayer resources to new arrivals when many Mainers are facing economic hardships. “A new office to continue to advance the federal government’s illegal immigration policy in Maine is severely tone deaf,” Smith said.

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