Currently showing posts tagged Civil Rights in Maine

  • Documentary on the Battle Over Contested Penobscot River Territory - 2 screenings scheduled

    On September 25, 2015, Sunlight Media Collective released The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory, a documentary film that explores the conflict between the state of Maine and the Penobscot Nation over contested river territory. Spanning from the 1700's to the present-day legal battle of Penobscot Nation v. Mills, the film illustrates the Penobscots' centuries-long fight to retain their territory and their inherent, treaty-reserved sustenance fishing rights for future generations. Featuring first-person accounts, the film tells the urgent, inspiring story of a struggle for justice and cultural survival in the face of an astonishingly open abuse of state power.

    The documentary release closely follows a meeting between Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis and President Obama, where they discussed the Penobscot Nation v. Mills case. The Penobscot Nation is suing the state of Maine in response to a decision by former Attorney General William Schneider that the Penobscot Indian reservation, which includes more than 200 islands in the Penobscot River, does not include any portion of the water— a decision that amounts to territorial theft by the state. Oral arguments for the case are scheduled for October 14th at the US District Court in Portland, ME.

    The case is taking place in the context of a larger state battle over river jurisdiction and water quality standards. In February, the federal EPA ruled that Maine must improve its water quality standards to protect Penobscot sustenance fishing rights. Governor Paul LePage has called the ruling “outrageous” and threatened to relinquish state regulatory responsibilities to the federal EPA if they did not reverse the ruling.

    The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory chronicles the Penobscot’s struggle to maintain their centuries-long stewardship to ensure a healthy ecosystem for all of Maine, a struggle exemplified by these contemporary legal battles. According to Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis, the Penobscot v. Mills case “is really not about controlling the river system, or controlling individuals within the system. It’s really about our ability to manage a subsistence resource that we have a responsibility for, for multiple generations.”

    Funded by Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory is available for free on the Sunlight Media Collective website (, and DVDs are available by order. To schedule a screening, please email

    The Sunlight Media Collective is a collaboration between Penobscot and non-native filmmakers. The film is just one example of an up-swell of activism and work on issues affecting the Wabanaki tribes. In October, Upstander Productions will also release a short documentary entitled First Light, on the recently completed Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

    Screenings of The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory currently scheduled:

    October 21st, Belfast Free Library, Belfast, 6:00PM

    October 24th, Gates Auditorium, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, 1:30PM

  • As Texas judge blocks immigration order Maine immigrants continue to prepare for the new immigration programs


    Maine State Capitol. Gov. LePage and 25 other states are sueing over immigration rule. photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    On Feburary 17th, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville Texas issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks the implementation of two programs meant to allow some immigrants to stay and work in the United States. 

    "While this ruling is disappointing, it is very narrow and does not find that the president's actions on immigration are unconstitutional. The American dream is for everyone, and we will continue to fight for reforms to our immigration system and for a pathway to citizenship for aspiring Americans," said Alison Beyea, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maine.

    The ruling, that comes out of a lawsuit brought by 26 states including Maine, affects the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs, which would help millions of immigrants to come forward, register and apply for work permits.

    Throughout Maine's history immigrants have added to the state's cultural diversity, businesses, and innovations. Our restaurants that serve meals which melt in one’s mouth and tantalize the senses with spices from abroad are crafted for us by immigrants. These eateries have added tremendously to the quality of life of Maine’s downtowns, as well as the local economies. Some of Maine's scientists that are making breakthroughs at University Laboratories and private institutions are immigrants.  Some notable politicians like Sen. George Mitchell came from immigrant families. Gov. John Baldacci has Italian/ Lebanese roots. And Gov. Paul LePage is Franco-American.

    “Although this decision marks a temporary setback for the DACA and DAPA programs, ILAP remains confident that the President’s executive actions are strongly supported by the law and will ultimately go forward. We are continuing to encourage clients to collect their supporting documents so that we can help them submit their applications as soon as the programs begin.” Sue Roche, Executive Director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP).

    The expanded DACA program was set to begin February 18, 2015 for those qualifying under the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for people who entered the country as children.

    "Mainers who qualify under the deferred action programs are not criminals and they are not trying to game the system; they are hard-working students, employees, farmworkers, small business owners, and taxpayers who are vital parts of Maine's economy and communities across the state. They are trying to do the best for their families and communities here in Maine despite insecurity and a lack of opportunities in their home countries. I strongly believe that we owe them a fair chance to live, work, and stay in Maine, especially considering the state's aging demographics and workforce shortages." said Ian Yaffe, Executive Director of Mano en Mano.

    The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition is hopeful that the 5th Circuit of Appeals will overturn this injunction, so that millions of people can come forward to live and work in the country they call home and help contribute to America's economic growth.

  • LePage ignores facts to stoke fear about immigrants in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Gov. Paul LePage went off script during his Feb. 3 State of the State address and continued his unfounded attacks on immigrants legally living in Maine.

     "I came to America in 2010 because of the persecution my family faced in Burundi where I was a judge. Maine was a welcoming and safe place—where I now work and serve my community," said Philemon Dushimire, Senior Advisor of the Burundi Community Association of Maine. "Gov. LePage's comments are a bitter reminder of the type of scare tactics and dehumanization many asylum seekers like me faced before coming to this land of the free. I never thought I would hear this kind of venomous language from our leaders in Maine."

    During his speech LePage tried to stoke fear through his incorrect and offensive comments about immigrants, which he used as a justification for cutting vital support for legal residents in Maine who are seeking asylum.

    “But this is the problem with some of the illegals that are here today. When a refugee comes here from a foreign country, they get a medical assessment and we know their health. But when they are here illegally, they don’t get medical assessments," said LePage. "And one thing that we don’t want to see is the uptick in hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis, but it is here. We are dealing with it. And it is very costly.”

    This statement is misleading, illogical and mean-spirited. Both the Bangor Daily News on Feb. 8 and the Portland Press Herald on Feb. 11 wrote that the data does not support the governor’s rhetoric.

     “The consensus among public health experts regarding Gov. Paul LePage’s comments linking illegal immigrants to the spread of infectious diseases during his State of the State address on Tuesday is that they have seen no data to back up his claims," reported the BDN.

    The governor is using the fear of infectious disease as a wedge to make others unnecessarily fearful of Maine’s immigrant community in order to draw support for his budgetary priorities.

    Further, the majority of people who would be impacted by the cuts to vital services proposed in the governor’s state budget are immigrants seeking asylum who are lawfully residing in Maine. They are not here illegally.

    Last winter, more than 200 people testified in opposition to these cuts during a Department of Health and Human Services hearing on an administrative rule to eliminate General Assistance for some immigrants. LePage and his administration were provided with documentation and data showing who is impacted and explaining the legal process people seeking asylum go through when they come to America. That he continues to misrepresent who is affected by the cuts is a willful misrepresentation of the facts.

    Like Dushimire, individuals and families seeking asylum legally come to our country to escape violence and persecution. Once they begin the process of applying for asylum, individuals must wait at least 180 days for work authorization from the federal government. While they wait, General Assistance is a necessary safety net. We all know that the charities, churches, and food pantries across Maine are working at full capacity to help those living in poverty in our communities. Those programs and our local municipalities cannot afford to replace what LePage is trying to cut.

    “New Mainers who are lawfully seeking asylum in our country come to ILAP for help with the legal process, which is lengthy and complex. They are eager to work and contribute to their communities but need temporary help from General Assistance in order to eat and have shelter while they wait for permission to work. It is important that discussions around these issues are based on facts, as we assess the policies before the legislature this year," commented Sue Roche, Executive Director of Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.

    Taking assistance away from asylum seekers will push them into homeless shelters, which will not improve public health efforts. In fact, it would have the opposite effect.

    If the administration is truly concerned about the transmission of communicable diseases, then improving access to medical screening and treatment for all Mainers should be a priority. In contrast, three years ago the governor eliminated MaineCare for asylum seekers and other immigrants who are lawfully present in our state.

    In addition, key positions in our public health system have been left unfilled under this administration—yet another indicator that the governor’s statements about public health are not based on a true concern for the health of Maine people.

    Ensuring that our state’s public health system is fully staffed and increasing access to health care are the right solutions if the spread of disease is truly the administration’s concern.