In the midst of an immigration crisis engineered by the Trump administration, Maine has become a rare island of hope.

While asylum-seeking families with children are held without adequate food or sanitation in cages set up on the Mexican border, migrants who have made their way to Portland have food and shelter, and are receiving health care and help finding stable housing.

The difference could not be more stark, and Mainers can be proud that their state has presented an alternative to the inhumanity orchestrated by Washington. This is due to leadership by the city of Portland, which for the last four years has made resources available to house newly arrived asylum seekers who are prevented by law from working or receiving aid from the state and federal governments.

When an influx of new arrivals stressed the city’s limits, neighboring towns, churches and civic groups have chipped in to help people in need. In just a month, private citizens and foundations have donated approximately $800,000 to be used to help the 250 or so migrants who are here now, and an unknown number of others who may arrive later.

The speed of action and generosity says a lot about the people of this area, but the picture of what happens next is less clear.

There is some debate over whether the money raised should be used to compensate pay city employees for their work with the asylum seekers. Some argue that money should only go directly to the people in need, but it’s not that simple. Where the city has been providing extraordinary services, either by spending money that would not otherwise be spent or by putting off regular work to make staff available for the current situation, the city should be eligible to receive compensation from the fund.


In its online donation form, Portland said it would “use any monetary donations received to provide shelter/housing assistance and basic human necessities.” That is broad enough to include direct aid provided by staff in the improvised shelter, or an indirect service like a housing voucher.

Portland did a good job responding to circumstances that were not of its making. But it would be unrealistic to expect the city’s taxpayers to cover the entire cost. A bill in Congress, sponsored by Maine’s 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-North Haven, would cut down the amount of time asylum seekers have to wait before they are allowed to work. But that is no quick fix.

A faster solution would be for the state to allow municipalities to use General Assistance funds to help newly arrived asylum seekers. That was state policy before 2015, when Gov. Paul LePage changed to rule. At that time, the Portland created “Community Support Fund” that prevented several hundred families from becoming homeless. Four years later, the city should not still be handling this alone.




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