By Grace Carr
Foreign asylum seekers make up the vast majority of Portland, Maine’s population growth and occupy nearly all of the space in its shelters, pushing the city’s abilities to provide resources, according to reports.
Portland has seen a steady growth in population since 2010, according to the World Population Review. Much of that population growth, however, has resulted from foreign-born persons, most of African descent, traveling to the city to seek asylum, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
Between 2011 and 2016, foreign-born persons accounted for over 75 percent of the city’s growth, according to a city report, WSJ reported.
“The word is out there that our community is open to that population and has some assistance programs,” said Portland Social Services Division administrator David MacLean, according to WSJ. “Our local resources are not able to keep up,” he added.
While Portland has not embraced “sanctuary city” policies, asylum seekers largely consider the city hospitable to their presence and needs.
Portland’s shelters are also bursting at the seems, with asylum seekers making up 90 percent of those occupying its shelters, according to WSJ.
Applying for and receiving asylum can be an extended process. Asylum seekers who have submitted application for asylum status can qualify for assistance for up to two years under Maine law. Roughly 70 percent of the 1,000 persons currently receiving assistance from the city are noncitizen asylum seekers, according to city workers.
In order for recipients to receive aid, they must work for the city as payment. Eligibility for general assistance is re-evaluated by city officials every 30 days, according to WSJ.
Migrants coming to Maine usually enter the state at its southern border and have traveled to the U.S. on visas, according to Maine’s Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project asylum program director, Jennifer Bailey, WSJ reported.
The number of migrants coming to the state is also increasing remarkably, according to Bailey. “We have more cases than we’ve ever had,” she said. “The number of people coming is out of sync with resources.”
An expanded labor force is not undesirable, but the city wants to attract those who will contribute and help Portland succeed rather than drain its resources. “We certainly need the [labor force] help,” said Maine Heritage Policy Center communication director Jacob Posik, according to WSJ. The center is a conservative think-tank that promotes public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, according to its website.
“But if we’re attracting people to come here, we should certainly do it in a responsible way that isn’t strangling resources,” Posik said.
The city is well known for a thriving restaurant scene. Bon Appetit named Portland the restaurant city of the year in 2018.
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