“As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”

And our state, the oldest in the nation, is squandering a precious resource: its young people.

I currently house two Congolese teenagers, 14 and 16 years old, who witnessed unbelievable tragedy to arrive safely on U.S. soil. They are without family or resources. They came to our house thanks to the grit and overtime of Portland school district social workers and a broad network of hardworking volunteers. 

An accident of grotesque luck introduced us and desperation is binding us quickly. These young men are able-bodied, affable, hardy, highly intelligent, on the cusp of adulthood and so eager to participate in the economy – an economy in sore need of workers, especially motivated ones.   

According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration of Families and Children released Dec. 18: “By law, HHS has custody and must provide care for each [unaccompanied child].”

You may be unsurprised to hear that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has been notified twice about these children, has met with them twice, and refused to take custody because “they are not under threat.” Yes, in fact. Yes, they are. 


These two young people and others just like them are a dragonfly’s wing away from Preble Street Resource Center. Maybe I misunderstand the definition of “threat”? I think not.

As a physician, I see the costly downstream effects of unhoused and abandoned youth every day. Why is the Maine DHHS, then, refusing to take custody? Is it systemic racism? Xenophobia? If these children had American passports, they would have been assigned a guardian shortly after their mother died. Instead, they are installed in my guest room, without guardian, status, papers, health insurance or the ability to get a job. Misguided resource management is the best euphemism I can conjure. 

The past, present and future of our nation will always be (with our recent demographic shift, especially), one of migration. If the United States wishes to stem the tide washing ashore at the southern border, then informed and collaborative investment in the South American and African continents’ governmental, environmental and social stability is sorely needed. Neglecting the children already here solves nothing. Whatever is happening now is the definition of insanity: more of the same, still not working.  

Let Mainers not be leaders in the desertion of orphans on our soil. Please, reach out to your lawmakers. Encourage them to compel the Maine DHHS to abide by the law and to take custody of teenagers like these wonderful young men. 

Now. Now is the time to act. Regardless of one’s feelings regarding how and why newly arrived people got here, here is where they are. A small degree of investment and we have functional societal contributors. None, and we have easily trafficked children relying on the kindness of strangers. That is a safety net with many holes. 

This is no way for our state to lead, to govern or to be great. 

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