For the leader of a state that is struggling to maintain its population, Gov. Paul LePage’s approach to immigration has always been counterproductive. Now it is bordering on delusional.

At his most recent town hall-style meeting Tuesday night in Freeport, the governor called asylum-seekers “the biggest problem in our state.” Nevermind the opiate crisis, struggling rural communities and the demographic time bomb that is Maine’s aging population — the real issue, according to LePage, is the relatively small number of people who arrived here seeking a new life after fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.

Fortunately, this is a battle that the governor has lost at nearly every turn. Unfortunately, he continues to wage it, spreading misinformation, giving Maine a reputation as an unwelcoming place, and providing a foothold to anyone with a tendency to fear and loathe newcomers of different races and ethnicities.

HELPING NEW ARRIVALS

The governor’s case against asylum-seekers — at least he didn’t erroneously call them “illegal immigrants” as he has before — is two-fold.

First, he says that scarce state and federal funds should go to Maine residents.

That is at least a reasonable argument, but one that LePage and his allies lost, as others rightly argued that it is not an “either-or” situation, and that Maine both has an obligation to and can benefit from new arrivals.

As a result, a bill was passed giving asylum-seekers the right to collect General Assistance while their application for asylum is processed, during which time they cannot legally work.

The bill went into law without LePage’s signature, and the Republican Party eventually launched an unsuccessful effort to put on the 2016 ballot a referendum that would have effectively overturned the law. The party has said it will try again for 2017.

Until then, LePage can continue to argue that Maine doesn’t have the resources to help asylum-seekers, but the law says they are entitled to that aid, and he has no right to muddy the argument with misleading claims that speak to people’s worst fears about immigrants.

‘FOREIGN TYPE DISEASES’

Which brings us to the governor’s second point, that asylum-seekers bring to Maine “hepatitis C, tuberculosis, AIDS, HIV, the ‘ziki fly,’ [sic] all these other foreign type diseases that find a way to our land.”

On this issue, the governor should be ashamed of himself. There is absolutely no proof that asylum-seekers and other immigrants are contributing to anything approaching a public health problem, and to suggest that Mainers are in danger due to their presence is the worst kind of rhetoric.

According to the most recent data available, rates of AIDS and HIV have remained relatively flat in recent years as the number of asylum-seekers has grown sharply.

In the same period, hepatitis C has increased slightly, though that has been attributed to the rise in the use of heroin.

Most of the tuberculosis cases in Maine do indeed come from foreign-born residents, but with an average of less than 16 cases a year in the prior three years, it is hardly a crisis.

And while LePage is right that asylum-seekers are not screened for medical problems with the same urgency as refugees, there is no evidence that it has created problems here.

So rather than make the state inhospitable for immigrants, Maine should make sure asylum-seekers have access to health care when they arrive here, as part of a comprehensive effort to welcome them, and put their energy and talents to good use.

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