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Penobscot County Leaders, Advocates Support Refugee Resettlement At Commissioners' Meeting

Immigrant advocates and local leaders in Penobscot County pushed back Tuesday against Republican State Rep. Larry Lockman of Amherst, who asked county commissioners to not allow refugees to resettle there.

Lockman argued before the commissioners that that refugees would take up resources but not help the area’s economy.

“The bottom line for me is that open borders advocates have failed to bear the burden of proving that more refugee resettlement is good for Maine,” he said.

But several local officials and residents told a different story. Bangor City Council member Angela Okafor, who immigrated from Nigeria, said she and her husband have both launched multiple businesses since they arrived in Maine.

“So to stand here and say that we come here to burden the community, that is an insult on ourselves,” she said. “And I am here to diffuse that.”

Recent reports, including one released in 2018 from the group New American Economy, say that immigrants provide substantial benefits to the state and are needed to bolster its aging workforce. The New American Economy report estimates that that foreign-born residents contributed more than $1.2 billion to the Portland metro region in 2016.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last year that would have allowed local and state officials to deny refugees from resettling within their boundaries. A federal judge blocked the order last week.

County commissioners decided to table any potential action until after the matter works its way through the courts. But Commissioner Peter Baldacci said that it’s important for the county to show its support for refugee resettlement.

“My feeling is that refugees can make the pie bigger,” he said. “This idea that it’s a zero-sum game, that if you add a slice for some people, it’ll mean everyone else gets less. I think that clearly, refugees and immigrants can make the pie bigger. They’ve done that for over 100 years in this country.”

A spokesperson for Catholic Charities said the organization has no immediate plans to resettle any refugees in Penobscot and Hancock counties. The organization added that it already received consent from the state, Cumberland County and the city of Portland for resettlement, but was instructed to pause that process while the court’s injunction remained in effect.