Meet the Vulnerable Congressman Who Helped Spark an Immigration Crisis in Maine

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Rep. Jared Golden has championed legislation that provides free housing for migrant asylum seekers

Representative Jared Golden (D., Maine) / Twitter @golden4congress

Patrick Hauf • September 16, 2022 04:59

A vulnerable Maine Democrat has led an effort to make migrants eligible for his state’s welfare program, a policy that could hurt him at the polls in November given that it has led to a costly overflow of asylum seekers in the city of Portland.

As state legislator, Rep. Jared Golden championed a bill in 2015 declaring asylum-seeking immigrants eligible for the state’s General Assistance Program, which provides free hotels, meals, and accommodations. other essential products for elderly and homeless Mainers. As a result, around 1,200 immigrants are currently receiving emergency housing in Portland and are unable to work until they receive government approval, a process that can take several months. Portland officials in May informed federal immigration agencies that hotels in the city have reached capacity and are unable to house additional asylum seekers, just as federal funds for the program are about to expire.

“I am writing this email to alert you to the fact that as of the date of this email, there is no longer any shelter OR hotel capacity in Portland, Maine,” the director of City Health and Human Services, Kristen Dow. “Furthermore, as our staff is quite dispersed, there is no guarantee that we will be able to assist individuals in their search for emergency accommodation.”

Maine’s migrant issues could pose a problem for Golden, a member of the centrist House Blue Dog Coalition, as he faces a close re-election campaign against Republican former congressman Bruce Poliquin. Golden has attempted to distance himself from the Biden administration’s immigration policy, which is supported by only 33% of Americans—presentation legislation in May that would prevent the president from ending Title 42, a Trump-era policy that allows immigration authorities to turn away asylum seekers at the border. As a state legislator, however, Golden welcomed an unprecedented number of asylum-seeking immigrants to his state with some of the most extensive welfare benefits in the nation.

“Voting to refuse to lend a hand to people far less fortunate than me, who came here hoping to find peace and freedom…goes against everything I defend,” Golden said in 2015.

In the years since its implementation, the asylum policy has strained Portland’s budget: while migrants make up 2% of Portland’s population, their social costs consist of 20 percent of the city budget. The policy, which provides two years of assistance for each asylum seeker, Cost the city $40 million between January and June just to lodge some 400 families.

Maine pays 70% of general assistance funds to cities, the rest costs covered by the federal government in recent years amid the pandemic. Federal support is due to expire next month, however, meaning Portland could be forced to cut other programs. Portland City Manager in April postponed a presentation of the city’s budget due to concerns about rising housing costs for asylum seekers.

Golden helped lead the effort to pass the 2015 migrant welfare measure at the State House in an 81-63 vote, which largely toed party lines. State Democrats moved to pass the measure after then-Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R.) in 2014 stopped state relief to cities that allowed asylum seekers to receive welfare, which he said was illegal. In a 2015 op-ed, the Maine Democrat dismissed criticism from Republicans that welfare for asylum seekers would lead to a shortage of funds for other programs.

“At a time when our state is operating on a revenue surplus, Maine doesn’t have to choose between housing our seniors or housing asylum seekers,” Golden wrote.

Bobby Reynolds, a senior adviser to the Golden campaign, told the Free Washington Beacon that the measure had a strong Republican influence Support in the state Senate, but would not comment on whether Golden regretted his vote.

Portland in 2019 hosted 450 African asylum seekers, many of whom were held in the city’s sports arena for two months. Residents raised $1 million to help provide essential care, and others volunteered to house families. African immigrants from the General Assistance Program spread the news to their families still abroad via WhatsApp, according to a July report in the Christian Science Monitor. Most of these African immigrants do not speak English and are often unable to start working for over a year.

Portland’s mayor and manager did not respond to requests for comment. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the general assistance program, did not respond to a request for comment.

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