In March, this editorial board voiced its support of a proposal for the establishment of a state office that would act as a “one-stop shop” for new Maine residents. We praised it as having the potential to “give Maine and Mainers a valuable opportunity to reframe the present moment.”

Asylum seekers wait inside City Hall in Sanford on Monday for information about General Assistance benefits. L.D. 787, a bill proposed by Sen. Rick Bennett, would create a position that would track the support systems available for newly arrived asylum seekers. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The editorial also hit an optimistic note in its conclusion: “It stands to lift our communities out of disagreement and fragmented crisis-type response and in the direction, together, of a strategy focused on shared opportunity, prosperity and the future.”

Faced with the unacceptable scenario still unfolding in Sanford, it’s hard to locate that kind of optimism this week.

On Tuesday, Sanford officials said that several people drove more than 100 asylum seekers to their city from Portland over the past week “with the promise of better benefits.” The deluge of people overwhelmed Sanford’s General Assistance office and created what officials called “a crisis situation.” One city councilor described the situation as “horrific” and likened it to human trafficking.

Indeed, there are clear parallels between this ill-conceived, spurious transfer of people from one place to another and some of the more shameful interventions that have taken place across the country in recent months, such as the busing and flying of migrants arranged by intolerant governors of other states.

On Thursday, we called for more financial help from the state in the form of General Assistance and what it costs to administer. In our view, it is equally important for Maine to urgently take stock of its services and coordinate all of the various types of support it has to offer immigrants.


Without dependable and verified information, word of mouth and grapevine-type encouragement toward a patchwork quilt of established services will land other towns and cities in the same chaotic position in which Sanford found itself.

Not only does Maine lack a dedicated office that would pull in critical information and share it with people who could use it, we don’t even track General Assistance at the state level – a farcical state of affairs that, in 2023, forces municipal offices to phone each other up to establish who’s already in the system and who isn’t.

The federal government has failed to even entertain the style of comprehensive immigration reform that has been sorely needed for years. The end of Title 42 is regarded by most experts as likely to lead to a surge in the number of people entering the U.S. at the southern border. In the absence of any semblance of federal will on this matter, we have to be assertive about our own programs and structures.

The proposal we referred to back in March, a bill introduced by Sen. Rick Bennett, is wending its way through the Legislature. “Many of our communities do not know yet what they have to deal with. The situation in Sanford is precisely the situation my bill is focused on,” Bennett said this week.

Some of the anticipated resistance to a proposal like Bennett’s comes down to a familiar political philosophy – a desire for a complete, wholesale framework over a modest, narrow response; everything rather than something.

Even as a broader plan is being formed, the Bennett proposal to appoint a coordinator of information focused on guidance, practices, ideas and efficiencies achievable with a bird’s-eye view is something Maine can benefit greatly from in the near term.

The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, having many times refined its summary of what’s needed, characterized the vision better than any other source this week: “A central hub for tracking the numbers, whereabouts and support systems available for newly arrived asylum seekers will increase the efficacy and efficiency of both privately and municipally administered social services,” it said in a statement. “Moreover, it will promote equity in resettlement service provision across Maine towns and cities.”

Bennett’s bill won’t deliver all of that, but it has the power to start Maine down that track.

And – as though it needs to be said – we have to start somewhere.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.