A recent wave of African immigrants bussed up from the Texas border has caught the city of Portland unprepared to adequately provide for them. This despite the prediction that city manager Jon Jennings announced in June 2019 that a second wave of asylum seekers was possible and here it is – as he predicted. Why isn’t the city prepared?
Why doesn’t the city have contingency plans ready for this inevitable second wave of new Mainers? Maybe it’s the city’s spokeswoman, Jessica Grondin, going on tv to say: There is no room here. Go somewhere else.
The City has planned a workshop on Monday, December 16, at 4:00 pm to update the public on the situation. It will be held at City Council Chambers.
Recently, this blogger had an opportunity to talk to Papy Kashama Bongibo, President of the Community Congolese of Maine (COCOMAINE), Papy said that all of the immigrants who arrived this summer and stayed at the EXPO are settled in Portland. Brunswick, Biddeford, Saco, Lewison, Cumberland and Westbrook. The largest “loop” of residents is between Portland, Brunswick and Lewiston. Many of the Portland residents ended up at 132 Bayside Village that has its own serious problems because of its new owner Tom Watson, of Port Property.
He said that he visits with them once a week. They gather at a central place to discuss issues. Most of all, Papy said immigrants are extremely grateful to Portland and other communities for their support and generiousity this summer. They were housed at the Expo until they were relocated because the space had been leased to other entities.
These weekly meetings with asylum seekers gives Papy special insights into the on-going concerns they face. One concern is President Trump’s crackdown on working permits – making it harder for immigrants who want to support themselves and their families. It now takes six months, at the least, to apply for working permits in the US. Racist Trump policies make it harder for them to achieve that goal without being dependent on municipalities for their existence. (Please see post herein dated July 31, 2015 for post on Senator Angus King trying to shorten the time asylum seekers need to wait to seek work permits).
As we all know, Portland is an aging city with an aging workforce. Some, such as former Mayor Ethan Strimling, see these immigrants as possible replacements for the workforce. But obstacles put in place by President Trump do not help in this regard. Strimling was seen as a true friend to this population – even trying to get them the right to vote in local elections even though they were not citizens of the US. The idea didn’t go far in Portland, needless to say.
A second concern Papy hears is the lack of public transportation among the cities where immigrants live. “This is not like New York City where there is lots of public transportation. Many feel isolated, although they are trying to be patient.” Papy has been working with METRO to “open” a line from Portland to Brunswick and Lewiston to ease that isolation.
A third concern of the immigrants Papy talks to weekly is making sure children are in school so they can learn English as well as their parents.
Following the panel discussion hosted by the World Affairs Council of Maine, Kate McCarthy, executive director, said that years ago a discussion like this would have depended on college professors to tell us what they know about Africa. Now the US has primary resources to describe life in Africa and why they want to flee their homes.
Please see posts herein dated June 12 and June 26, 2019 on the influx of immigrants to Portland.