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Mills calls for federal immigration reform, pledges to work with cities on asylum seekers

Ari Snider
Maine Public
Over the winter, a couple dozen asylum-seeking families lived in this rental property in Old Orchard Beach. The state is now planning to create 140 new units, primarily in the greater Portland area.

Gov. Janet Mills said her administration is continuing to work with Portland-area officials to help house an influx of asylum seekers to Maine. But the governor is also calling for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.

The Mills administration has been under pressure to do more to help communities struggling to handle a growing number of asylum seekers – many of them families – from sub-Saharan Africa. Late last month, after being accused by some Portland elected officials of not doing enough, the administration said it would open an emergency shelter in Portland and was preparing additional housing for asylum seekers in the area.

Speaking Thursday during a forum held by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mills noted that her administration worked with the Legislature to set aside $22 million in the most recent budget for an emergency housing relief program. Mills said some of that money could be used to help cover the costs of temporary hotel rooms for asylum seekers.

But Mills said what is really needed is for the federal government to improve the immigration and asylum processes.

“In the long-term, what’s necessary is comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level to expedite review of applications of asylum seekers and expedite work authorization so they can work,” Mills said during remarks to the breakfast forum. “We need the workforce here. We want them to be available for work. Some of them come with incredible skills and experiences that we can employ."

A recent report found that the Boston asylum office approved just 16 percent of applications compared to 28 percent nationally.