“Welcome Home.” Those are the words on a sign planted by the highway near Maine’s border with New Hampshire.

If you are one of the asylum-seeking immigrants who have recently arrived in Portland after an arduous journey across Central America and Mexico, that message is for you. If you missed the sign on your way in, let us repeat it:

We’re glad you’re here. We need you. We will help you as much as we can, mostly by giving you the tools you need to help yourselves.

Welcome home.

You don’t have to believe us. “Welcome home” is a favorite slogan of our governor, Janet Mills. In the inaugural address she delivered earlier this year, she painted a picture of Maine as a big unruly family where everybody has a place.

“Our diversity is a virtue – one that we should harness to advance good public debate and good public policy,” she said. “We welcome the voices of newcomers to the public conversation – the young, immigrants, people of different cultures, people of color, people of different orientations. All are important members of the Maine family.”


You should know that it’s not always going to be easy. Our country is embroiled in a toxic debate over immigration policy that has been unresolved for more than a decade. Our president ran for office with an anti-immigrant message, and has continued his hateful rhetoric whenever he wants to change the subject.

Maine is not immune from nationalist politics. Some people here have already spread false rumors about you, claiming that you are here to dilute the political power of native-born whites, that you carry diseases, that the meager services we offer you will bankrupt us. The people who say those things live here, too, and they have the right to speak, but don’t be fooled into thinking they represent the majority.

A bigger challenge for all of us is going to be financial. You are legally present here but not allowed to work and are not eligible for assistance through most government programs. Up until now, the city of Portland has stepped up and distributed funds collected from local taxpayers to help feed and house people in your situation.

But this year’s fund has already run out, and city officials are working with the state government and neighboring cities to find more resources – and those entities should step up. Portland, a city of 67,000 people, can’t do this on its own. And all Mainers have a stake in your success.

Maine is a state that has transitioned from an industrial to a service economy over just a few decades. Communities that were built around jobs in factories and mills are now struggling to find the next thing.

It’s also the oldest state in the nation, and that makes our workforce shrink every year even though the overall population stays about the same. A dwindling number of working-age people means that businesses don’t want to invest here. Without young people willing to move to Maine and work, our economy will shrink, making everyone poorer.


The biggest part of the job will be on you. Before you can work, you will have to fill out a complicated application for asylum that can take people months to complete. Once that’s done, you’ll have to wait 150 days, almost half a year, before you can apply for a work permit. Then your job prospects will be limited by your ability to speak English. If you need English classes and volunteer tutors, you can find them, but it won’t be easy for many of you.

As you get to know people here, you will find that most of them have an immigrant story that they like to tell about the struggles their ancestors overcame to make a life here. What you may not hear is that America once tried to shut its doors to immigration.

Starting in the 1920s, fear of a communist revolution like the one in Russia inspired strict limits on how many immigrants could come here, and from where. Those laws were in place during Hitler’s rise, and thousands of people who could have been saved from the Holocaust could not come here, including the family of Anne Frank. In 1939, ship called the St. Louis that was filled with 900 mostly Jewish refugees had to sail back across the Atlantic because the United States would not let it land. Some of the refugees on board were able to find safety in other countries, but 254 of them were delivered to their deaths in Nazi camps.

Most Americans are ashamed of episodes like that. It doesn’t reflect who we think we are as a people – a people connected by ideas, not by blood.

We invite you to join our imperfect, argumentative and mismatched family to write another chapter in the story.

In short: Welcome home.



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