A Freeport resident has donated $20,000 to help support asylum-seeking immigrants in Portland who do not qualify for state aid.

Peter Carleton holds a sign in support of asylum seekers during a rally in Portland on Monday, shortly before the City Council voted to preserve a support fund for the new arrivals. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Phyllis Jalbert, a Fort Kent native whose late husband survived the Holocaust, sent the check to Portland this month with instructions that the money should be used to help asylum seekers. Mayor Ethan Strimling took to social media Thursday to call attention to donation.

Jalbert couldn’t be reached Thursday. Strimling told the Press Herald that he had spoken to her and he praised Jalbert for demonstrating the same generosity and compassion as many Portland residents who have supported immigrants to the city.

“Her family understands first-hand the struggles of being persecuted in your home country and struggling to survive in a new one,” Strimling said. “This is the same story so many of our newest neighbors are experiencing, and her donation will undoubtedly help many find shelter and stability.”

In 2003, Jalbert donated $500,000 to help build a Holocaust memorial and education center at the University of Maine Augusta, The Associated Press reported.  Her late husband, Michael Klahr, survived World War II by hiding on a farm in France, after his mother was deported and his father was shot by the Nazis, the AP said.

Jalbert’s gift to Portland goes into Portland’s Community Support Fund, which was created in 2015 in response to Gov. Paul LePage’s efforts to make asylum seekers ineligible for General Assistance, Maine’s social safety net for people who can’t afford basic necessities. After fights in the courts and the Legislature, the LePage administration tightened eligibility through rulemaking so that asylum seekers can only be eligible once they have completed the process of filing an asylum application.


That definition left out many new arrivals, because it can take months for asylum seekers to fill out the forms and collect the information needed to support their asylum claim. Federal law prohibits asylum seekers from working until at least six months after they have filed their asylum application, leaving many without the means to support themselves.

Portland decided to create the support fund, which is believed to be the only one of its kind, so it could continue providing assistance to those who fell within that gap.

In the last few years, Portland has experienced a surge in the number of families from sub-Saharan Africa seeking asylum here. Immigration advocates say they’re drawn to the growing community of immigrants in the city and Portland’s policy of supporting everyone in need.

This year, the council allocated $200,000 to the fund. It had exceeded its budget by $36,000 by the end of March, but community members donated $45,000, allowing the city to continue providing rental assistance through the end of June.

Jalbert’s gift is believed to be the largest single donation to the fund and brings the total amount of private gifts to $65,640, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. Some donations are made anonymously, according to the city. Grondin said $20,000 is enough to help as many as 13 families for a full year based on the city’s experience with the fund.

City Manager Jon Jennings had proposed phasing out the program over the next two years, but the City Council unanimously voted Monday to restore the funding and continue accepting new applicants. The vote came after a rally to support social services funding and call for the city to remain a welcoming place for asylum seekers.

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