By Ramona du Houx
Gathering for the hearings on May 26,2017, the hallways and waiting rooms became packed with concerned citizens who came to defend their neighbors and to stand up for their communities.
House Judiciary Chair Matt Moonen of Portland forcefully denounced a series of prejudicial bills targeting immigrants and refugees that drew so many to Augusta.
Two hours into the first bill’s public hearing, already over a dozen Mainers had testified in fierce opposition. The public hearings required two overflow rooms to accommodate those wishing to testify.
The bills, sponsored by Republican Larry Lockman of Amherst, were also rejected by dozens of Mainers who attended public hearings to testify against the bills.
“This is not the first time Representative Lockman has tried to enshrine in law his hatred of immigrants, or as he calls our neighbors, ‘aliens’,” said Rep. Moonen. “Beyond the fact that we’re debating the future of human beings, immigrants have always strengthened Maine. That’s as true today as it has been for the last 200 years. The Legislature should swiftly reject these bills.”
- LD 366 “An Act To Ensure Compliance with Federal Immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities” seeks to prohibit restricting the enforcement of federal immigration law. Maine is already in full compliance with federal immigration law.
- LD 1099 “Resolve, To Require the State To Bring Suit against the Federal Government for Failure To Comply with the Federal Refugee Act of 1980” directs the Attorney General to sue the Federal Government for failure to comply with the federal Refugee Act of 1980. The federal Refugee Act of 1980 contains provisions requiring consultation between the federal government and states regarding the placement of refugees.
- LD 847 “An Act To Hold Refugee Resettlement Agencies Accountable to Maine People” targets the tax status of refugee resettlement agencies, such as Catholic Charities, and seeks to make them liable in the event of any terrorist acts committed by refugees in Maine.
Throughout the state immigrants are helping to grow Maine’s economy — which means growing jobs — while enriching their communities.
Many new businesses immigrant businesses are doing well in Lewiston/Auburn invigorating the local economy and bringing diversity to the area. In Lewiston Somali immigrants who attended the local high school brought the community together when they helped train and win the state championship.
Portland has the largest concentration of immigrants — approximately 11,000 representing over 80 nationalities. Recent immigrants, especially in the Portland region, are young and well educated. In addition, they are likely to pursue higher education and possibly launch their own businesses.
Immigrants only represent 3.5 percent of Maine’s population, according to a U.S. Census Bureau, while 13.1 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.
Instead of placing more restrictions on our immigrant populations community organizations want to encourage and help them integrate, as well as invite more to the state.
A report released in September of 2016, commissioned by the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the fact that the state’s aging population has created a smaller workforce which has restricted economic growth because employers can’t fill their vacant jobs once they retire. This problem will grow as more and more workers reach retirement age, while younger Mainers continue to leave the state.
It’s a huge problem — Maine is facing now. That’s way the MDF and MSCC called for setting a statewide goal to attract more immigrants to Maine, and to expand efforts to help them integrate into society and the workplace.
Each bill will face work sessions in the Judiciary Committee before moving to the full House and Senate.