Rep. Chellie Pingree is mounting a long-shot bid in Congress to gut a Republican proposal that would block funding to house migrants on federal land and replace it with her proposal to shorten the period asylum seekers must wait before they can work.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, meanwhile, is trying to get a similar proposal to shorten the waiting work-permit period attached to a border security bill taking shape in the U.S. Senate.

Shortening the waiting period for work permits from six months to 30 days has been supported by immigration advocates, state and local officials, and business organizations, and was recently endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the first time as a way to ease a nationwide workforce shortage.

But even as support for the idea has increased as more cities and states struggle to provide food and shelter to a growing number of asylum seekers who are not allowed to support themselves, it also has faced resistance from states nearest the southern border and from conservatives who want to limit immigration.

Pingree’s proposal to amend pending legislation faces an especially difficult path in the House, as hard-line Republicans who control the lower chamber are looking to reduce the flow of asylum seekers and others coming across the southern border.

Pingree, D-1st District, said in a written statement that her bill, which is co-sponsored by a Florida Republican, has “widespread, bipartisan support,” pitching it as an avenue to end congressional deadlock over immigration reform.


“Congress has been gridlocked over immigration reform for decades, but there is widespread, bipartisan support for my bill to get asylum seekers into the workforce faster,” Pingree said in a written statement.

“That’s why I am proposing that the House vote on my commonsense legislation instead of a punitive, shortsighted bill which does nothing to help employers badly in need of workers or asylum seekers who badly want to earn a living. I hope my Republican colleagues will see the economic advantage of allowing asylum seekers join the workforce earlier and enact this change.”

Volunteers serve lunch to asylum seekers in the emergency shelter set up at the Portland Expo in June. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A Pingree spokesperson said the House will likely vote on the bill this week.

The move comes as a bipartisan group of senators is negotiating a possible border security bill that could be tied to additional aid for wars in Ukraine and Israel.

A spokesperson for Collins said the Republican senator has raised her work permit bill “many times” with the senators negotiating a deal.

“As a result, the issue is being discussed as part of the negotiations,” spokesperson Annie Clark said. “(Sen. C0llins) continues to believe that this change would be good for everyone – from the communities where these migrants are living to the migrants themselves who are facing lengthy delays before their status is determined. The working group is considering many suggestions, and the prospects for this proposal are uncertain, but Sen. Collins continues to support the idea and will continue to advocate for its adoption.”


Maine’s congressional delegation has been advocating for shortened waiting periods for asylum seekers to work since at least 2015, when Sen. Angus King, an independent, sponsored a bill.


Since then, asylum seekers have come to Maine, especially the Portland area, at an increasing rate. Since asylum seekers can’t work, they turn to emergency shelters and public assistance programs, like General Assistance, which is administered through towns and cities.

The city of Portland had received about 1,600 asylum seekers through the spring and summer of this year, but no longer keeps track, a city spokesperson said.

The uptick in asylum seekers, many of whom are skilled workers, coincides with a workforce shortage here and nationally, leading to increased support from businesses desperate for workers. But asylum seekers – and immigration reform in general – continues to be a divisive political issue for nationally.

Pingree’s proposal is one of 23 amendments to be filed by last week’s deadline. Democrats filed 13 amendments, including several attempts to protect the rights of asylum seekers and creating new pathways for citizenship.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-New York, also proposed shortening the waiting period to work, though her amendment doesn’t gut the original bill, as Pingree’s does.

Proposed Republican amendments seek to make political statements such as “the southern border … is being invaded by paramilitary, narco-terrorist cartels and (the proposal) reaffirms the states’ sovereign rights to defend themselves and their citizenry,” and that the leadership of “Vice President Harris as border czar has been a complete catastrophe.”

The original Republican bill – H.R. 5283: Protecting our Communities from Failure to Secure the Border Act of 2023 – seeks to defund an agreement that would allow New York to house at least 2,000 migrants at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn’s Gateway National Recreation Area, which is part of the National Park System.

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