Maine to petition federal government to let asylum seekers work
(AP) - Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill directing Maine’s labor commissioner to petition the federal government for a waiver allowing asylum seekers to work while awaiting final determinations on their claims.
Her signature Thursday comes as the state grapples with the arrival of more than 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly from African nations, since the start of the new year.
In Portland, all shelters including an emergency one in a basketball arena are at capacity.
Letting asylum seekers go to work sooner is “a move that would benefit Maine employers in need of workers, that would reduce strain on state and municipal budgets, and that would allow asylum seekers to put their talents and skills to use, just as they want to do,” Scott Ogden, a Mills spokesman, said Friday via email.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Eric Brakey and co-sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, may not have any practical effect since it’s contrary to federal policy, which lets asylum seekers remain in the country but doesn’t let them work until they are granted asylum.
But it sends a message at a time when resources are spread thin for providing food and shelter to asylum seekers who want to contribute but are unable to do so, supporters said.
The law takes effect 90 days after the special legislative session ends. After that, a letter will be drafted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and to Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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