United States

Maine Has an Influx of Asylum Seekers

Portland Maine is seeking solutions to a major influx of asylum seekers.

This week, more than 150 people have arrived in the city seeking relief from political persecution in their home countries.

An emergency shelter has been set up in Portland’s Exposition Center and Friday afternoon, Portland officials briefed Maine Governor Janet Mills on how they were handling the situation.

"We had 157 people stay at the shelter, we have currently processed through our intake, 227 people in total," said city manager, Jon Jennings. "Things are still very fluid on the ground."

Most of the asylum seekers fled the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.

They arrived in the United States via the southern border with Mexico.

In addition to Jennings, Portland city staff and city councilors, panelists at Friday’s meeting included heads of Maine state agencies like its Center for Disease Control and the Maine Emergency Management Agency, which is supplying cots at the Expo.

Jason Owens, the chief U.S. Border Patrol agent for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Maine told the group all the asylum seekers will have to wait for a judge to validate their asylum claims.

They will not be deported but will have to find somewhere to stay on their own until their court appearance.

Portland leaders say the maximum capacity of asylum seekers they can house with public resources right now is 450.

The city of South Portland has stepped in to help with asylum seekers that are already here.

Governor Mills urged other communities to assist as well saying the influx is , "not just an issue Portland is going to deal with alone. We're all in this together."

Portland has already collected $200,000 in donations to help pay for items the asylum seekers may need during their stays.

Jennings said large companies and non-profits including Hannaford, Preble Street, Unum, Mercy Hospital and Maine Medical Center have all stepped in to provide meals, fresh linen and other items to the asylees.

The city says it now has enough food to give them three meals every day for "several weeks," according to Jennings.

But when the influx will stop and who will pay for these needs long-term remains a question.

As some in the meeting pointed out, the crisis is at least partially, a federal one that needs to be resolved at a higher level than Portland’s city government.

"Make no mistake about it, the only way that this ends for everybody is for that crisis on the border to end," said Chief Agent Owens. "There has to be a change in policy and process."

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