Portland showed the way. When 300 asylum-seeking families showed up in June, the city improvised an emergency homeless shelter in its basketball arena, and began working with the new arrivals to integrate them into the community.

It wasn’t just the city that stepped up. Neighboring communities and area nonprofits jumped in to feed the families, provide medical services and coordinate temporary housing. Gov. Janet Mills took pressure off the city by making the asylum seekers eligible for General Assistance, the locally administered state-local partnership program that provides food and rent vouchers for the most needy.

And individuals who’d heard about the crisis donated nearly $900,000 to a city fund set up to ease the migrants’ entry. And finally, Congress came through with another $900,000 for the city and two local nonprofits. It was announced Friday by Sen. Susan Collins, who acknowledged the work that had been done locally but said “the expense should not fall on the people of Maine alone. A national crisis requires a national solution.”

If only the Trump administration had the same idea. Hours after Sen. Collins sent her tweet announcing the appropriation, President Donald Trump was in Minneapolis bragging about his effort to disrupt the national refugee resettlement system. He praised a new rule change that would let cities and states slam the door on people who come to the country as refugees.

Under his executive order, state and local governments have to consent in writing before anyone with refugee status can be resettled there. “You should be able to decide what is best  for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods,” he said.

This policy is unique in the history of refugee resettlement, but what Trump advocates should be very familiar to anyone who has studied the history of racial segregation in this country. Letting cities and neighborhoods decide “what’s best” for themselves was the legal underpinning of urban ghettos, where newcomers, mostly African Americans fleeing the apartheid of the Jim Crow South, were denied opportunity to move freely and settle where they could find the best opportunity.

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This is an attack on immigration — not only illegal immigration, but legal immigration as well — that is a core administration policy.  At the same time the government is building fences and detention centers to discourage illegal border crossing, the administration is slamming the door on legal entry. Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants — all legal forms of immigration — are being treated like criminals by the federal government, and Trump encourages state and local officials to do the same.

This is not a national solution to a national crisis. It’s not even a solution at all.

Portland and its nonprofit partners showed a better way. As these hardworking and resourceful immigrants enter our workforce, Maine will be better off.


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