Carol McCracken (Post # 2,374)
This morning on the steps of Portland City Hall, US Senator Angus King (I) announced that yesterday he filed proposed legislation that would reduce the number of days that asylum seekers in Maine need to wait before pursuing work. In turn, asylum seekers would become less reliant on aid provided by local municipalities. This issue has become a source of serious contention between the City of Portland and Governor Paul LePage.
The Act would reduce the amount of time that an asylum seeker in Maine needs to wait before going to work. Currently, federal law requires that asylum seekers must wait 180 days after filing their asylum application in order to receive work authorization. This proposed bill would reduce that waiting period to 30 days “This will take a lot of work to get through,” King said. The Senator said he had informed US Senator Susan Collins (R) of the proposed bill, but he did not “reach out to her” for her co-sponsorship of it. (King endorsed Collins in her most recent re-election to office.)
Portland City Mayor Michael Brennan said that since he took office almost four years ago, he has made it a practice to visit local companies regularly. He encourages them to identify their biggest problem. It’s always a lack of a skilled workforce here, the Mayor said. Fifty percent of asylum seekers coming to Portland have a college degree. “They are well-educated,” he said. “There is a tremendous under utilization of skilled people.” Chris Hall, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce said: “The lack of a skilled workforce is the number one issue when talking to employers. I have people in my office enormously talented that we can’t put to work.
“I fled political persecution in my home country of Burundi in 2010, and am fortunate to have ended up in Maine where I was welcomed and where I knew I could begin a new life free from the fears I had experience back home,” said Philemon Dushimire. “But when I was forced to wait to find a job, it only made things more difficult and I had to turn to General Assistance, which, thankfully, helped me get through a tough time. When I finally got my work authorization, I quickly found a job and, today, I’m proud to say that I will be using the money I earned to pursue an advanced degree at the University of Maine at Orono. I am grateful and I hope future asylum seekers can have the same opportunities I have – just without having to encounter so many obstacles along the way.”