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Enough is Enough: Lewiston must provide benefits for asylum seekers

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

New Year. New City Council. Many old problems left over from the prior council. On the horizon await new problems that pose a serious financial threat to our city.

We face the loss of $1 million-plus in revenue sharing because a committee of self-serving politicians who owe their elections to a variety of special interest groups failed in their task to find $40 million in cuts in the state’s budget. So much for the trait of intestinal fortitude.

Soon the political leaders of Lewiston will be asked to make a decision that has the potential of igniting a firestorm.

On January 31, 2013, a group of resettlement people from Maine and Washington, D.C. paid a visit to Lewiston City Hall to discuss issues relating to primary and secondary immigrants (“New Mainers”). Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I brought up the fact that many New Mainers were in desperate need of an English language program to secure employment, a program that would immerse the entire family in English five days a week for a period of up to two years. The length of time needed would depend on the individual’s skills.

Those present seemed to like the idea. We were told that they would get back to us. A year has now passed, and we are still awaiting an answer.

Shortly thereafter, I had a conversation with former state senator Ethan Strimling. The result of that conversation and support from Governor Paul LePage, Lewiston Housing Authority Director James Darling and Lewiston Superintendent of Schools William Webster lead to the formation of English classes located at B Street Community Center to teach English to our New Mainers.

The next topic that was covered was asylum seekers. These are people who enter our country legally, usually through a visa. Shortly after entering, they claim they are being persecuted in their native country and fear retribution should they return. While in the country, they basically maintain the status of a tourist. They are not eligible for any federal or state programs until their claims are investigated by the U.S. government.

Until the investigation is complete and they are able to obtain working papers, it falls on the city they are living in to provide for their housing, clothing, food, medication, any medical treatment and a list of other things.

During our conversation, the gentleman in charge of the group stated that we (Lewiston) were under no obligation to financially help asylum seekers. He pointed out that to get a visa to enter the United States, they must declare they have a place to stay, funds to support themselves and a place to which to return.

When it was pointed out that because of the Department of Health and Human Services rules that govern the State of Maine, we (Lewiston) were forced to provide for their needs. At this time he laughed and said, “No wonder they come to Maine.”

The tragedy here is that these asylum seekers not only want to work, but they also possess skills that are needed and could be used in our community. Once given the go ahead by the federal government to work, I believe they would find gainful employment, but until this happens something has to be done.

A hearing will be held at the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta to discuss the changing of certain rules. This change will allow our cities and towns to deny benefits to anyone who does not qualify for federal or state aid. This hearing is slated to begin at 1 p.m. There is a possibility it may be broadcast on Time Warner Cable either Channel 181 or Channel 182.

Just when you think kids are lazy and unmotivated, someone comes along to disprove your beliefs. Over the last several stormy weeks, our paperboy has exhibited the traits of a postal carrier: neither freezing rain, nor ice, nor snow or plummeting temperatures will keep him from his daily deliveries. Kudos to this young man. His superior work ethic will someday lead him to a prosperous life.

Finally, during my daily public rounds I am hearing rumblings about the frigid weather we have been enduring. This, along with the research ship being frozen in place in Antartica, has many doubting the existence of global warming. Cheer up; I have heard that Mother Nature’s natural furnace has gone on the fritz. Repairs are now in the hands of Lucifer Plumbing and Heating. Heat should be restored shortly.

 

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