After failing to derail General Assistance for legally present asylum seekers, Gov. Paul LePage is looking to smear Maine’s largest city as the kind of place that protects undocumented immigrants even if they pose a threat to public safety.

Both the anti-GA rhetoric and the recent dig at Portland are typical of a governor who’s tried hard to associate immigrants with criminal behavior — an ongoing effort that should be given no credence by Maine residents.

Portland was drawn into the national immigration debate on Sunday, when LePage accompanied Chris Christie on a New Hampshire campaign stop.

The Republican presidential candidate criticized so-called “sanctuary cities” — which, he said, allow illegal immigrants with criminal records to stay in the United States — and named a few of them, including San Francisco, Chicago and New York. “And Portland, Maine,” interjected LePage.

Christie and LePage were taking advantage of a Republican feeding frenzy fueled by a July slaying in San Francisco. The alleged attacker — an undocumented immigrant who was a convicted felon and a previous deportee — had been freed on an earlier drug charge. The city’s sanctuary policy barred local officials from notifying federal authorities about his release.

These facts are chilling. That said, there’s no good reason to fear a similar scenario in Portland.

Portland allows local law enforcement to cooperate with federal authorities. And police here would inform federal agents if they had arrested someone with a deportation on his record, Chief Michael Sauschuck told the Press Herald this week.

Sunday’s swipe at Portland is part of a pattern for LePage, who has frequently resorted to using immigrants as a political punching bag.

He and his supporters spent months trying to cut off state housing and food benefits because, they said, the General Assistance vouchers would go to “illegal aliens.”

But the truth is that GA funds help people who are here legally. Immigrants who fled violence and persecution are considered legal residents while they wait for the U.S. government to decide whether they can stay permanently. They rely on GA to cover basic expenses before they receive federal work permits.

Cut off by LePage in July 2014, state GA funding will be restored next month, thanks to a new law that requires the state to keep providing emergency assistance for asylum seekers, most of whom live in Portland.

Unfortunately, the program is still vulnerable: The head of the state Republican Party says that cutting off the aid will be part of a 2016 statewide referendum on welfare reform.

So between now and next November, it’s up to fair-minded Mainers to spread the word that GA isn’t welfare and the people receiving it aren’t lawbreakers — because we know LePage won’t be doing anything to get that message across.

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