Helping our Newest Residents – An Investment in Maine’s Future

UPDATE re: How to help.  Donations of items are no longer requested, but if you have time to volunteer, sorting and packing donations for delivery to asylum seekers, help is needed at Gateway Community Services, 501 Forest Avenue on

  • June 19th, Wednesday: 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • June 21-23,  Fri, Sat and Sun: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Learn more about the recent asylum seekers below, and find more ways to help here .


In the past week, over 200 asylum seekers, mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have arrived in Portland after having entered the U.S. via the southern border.

These are not ordinary people.  They are people who not only had the courage to leave everything they knew and loved behind when conditions in their home countries threatened their lives and prospects, but also had the drive and determination to travel thousands of miles to South America and then thousands more, much of it on foot, to get to the U.S.   This was their destination because much of the world still views the U.S. as a country that offers freedom, democracy, safety, and opportunity.  Anyone who has made it this far is extraordinary, and will have much to contribute to their new chosen home.

As a longtime immigration lawyer, I was recently at the Expo, where the asylum seekers are temporarily sheltered.  I was volunteering with ILAP, Maine’s only nonprofit legal aid provider offering free asylum and other immigration law assistance, to triage the asylum seeker’s  immediate immigration law needs.   What I saw was heartening.

First, the outpouring of community support, from individuals, including many of Maine’s immigrants, organizations, and from state and city staff, is something of which Mainers can be proud.   This unexpected situation required all hands on deck, and the community has responded in kind.

Second, these asylum seeking individuals are all of working age, and can’t wait to become productive (even though federal law will prevent them from getting work permits for more than a half-year, unfortunately).   Individuals who arrived in the U.S. less than two weeks ago were already trying to learn English and were happy to practice the words they had learned so far as we spoke.  Many of them have school-age children who were playing, or sleeping, or eagerly trying to read donated children’s books.

These individuals are Maine’s future.  Maine’s population is aging, and our workforce is shrinking.  In every Maine county but two, there have been more deaths than births for several years running, and net population loss.  In Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, population is slightly up, or holding steady, due to the arrival of immigrants over the past two decades – immigrants just like these newest arrivals, who are both of working and childbearing age.

While Maine works hard to incentivize young adults to come to or stay in Maine through slick ad campaigns and promises of student loan forgiveness, immigrants are already coming, based on word of mouth of those who have come before them that Maine is welcoming, and safe, with good schools for their children. They bring vitality to our communities, growth to our workforce,  a new generation of Mainers to our schools, and a bright economic future.  They are Maine’s newest generation of workers, taxpayers, consumers, entrepreneurs, volunteers, neighbors, friends, family, and civically engaged citizens.

Nearly 90% of the job openings anticipated through 2024  in Maine will be due to baby boomers retiring.   Our labor shortage is already causing some businesses to hold steady or contract rather than grow, or to move out of state.   Whatever investment Maine puts into helping these asylum seekers in the short term is an investment in our long-term economic future.   Here’s how you can help in the short term. 

For the long-term, we need to recognize that investing in these asylum seekers is not a Portland issue, but a statewide one.   We need to convene a big tent to discuss helping immigrants settle throughout Maine, where there are communities that are aging and shrinking and struggling to be reborn.  This big tent should include public and private partners, including state agencies, city governments, businesses and leaders such as chambers of commerce and economic development groups, nonprofit service providers, philanthropists, and immigrants.   Maine needs to tackle how to make sure that communities that want to welcome immigrants have the infrastructure to both attract, retain and integrate immigrants so that they, and as a result, their new communities, can succeed.  Portland is just many immigrants’ first stop, but it need not be their last.   The State and other communities should invest in immigrants as Portland and Lewiston have, and they’ll benefit, as both Portland and Lewiston have.

Contact MeBIC if you want to be a part of this discussion .

 

Cap Reached for 30,000 Additional H-2B Visas for FY 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services  (USCIS)  announced that it has received enough petitions to exhaust the 30,000 additional visas for returning H-2B seasonal non-agricultural workers for positions starting in the second half of FY 2019.

USCIS will return any cap-subject H-2B petitions it received after June 5, 2019, together with the filing fees, to the petitioning employers.  It will continue to accept petitions for H-2B positions not subject to the cap, as described here.

The 30,000 visas for returning H-2B workers were added to the usual 33,000 cap for the second half of the fiscal year as a result of a provision Congress included in the omnibus budget bill that ended the government shutdown in February 2019.   Under the Congressional fix, the administration could have authorized over 69,000 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of the fiscal year, but chose not to do so.

Year after year, the number of H-2B available visas has fallen far short of the demand. Congress needs to create a permanent fix to the H-2B program so that it can reliably serve Maine’s, and the nation’s, employers with seasonal hiring needs.

U.S. Policies Making Skilled Immigration Harder is Benefiting Canada

A recent article highlights how changes in U.S. immigration policies since 2017 are causing both foreign-born specialized knowledge professionals and the U.S. corporations that need them to increasingly look to locate in Canada rather than the U.S.

(W)hile the US has made it more difficult to employ tech workers from abroad, Canada has streamlined its own tech immigration policies. In turn, Canada has become a technology hub. Recently a number of US tech companies, like Amazon and Microsoft, have expanded their offices in Canada.

The article notes that processing slowdowns and increased denials, evidenced in government data, make an already inadequate system that caps most H-1B professional specialized knowledge worker visas at 85,000 annually, even more unworkable both for employers, and for the talented foreign-born individuals who might want to work for them.

It also points out that while large corporations may be able to solve their hiring problems by expanding their operations in Canada, smaller tech companies may not have that option.

Canada suffers from a similar aging population and shrinking workforce as  the United States (though on a much different scale), and has responded in recent years by aggressively opening its doors to immigrants, from refugees to international graduate students, to specialized knowledge workers.  It appears those efforts have begun to pay off for Canada,  as we’ve written about previously, resulting in record population growth and corresponding jobs growth in 2018.

The U.S. administration should reverse course and consider taking a page out of Canada’s playbook.

State Impact of Administration’s Immigration Policies

On June 6, 2019 The Boston Foundation  released “The Growing Wave of Federal Immigration Restrictions:  What’s at Stake for Massachusetts?“, a report looking  at the impact of the current administration’s immigration and other policy changes affecting immigrants and “mixed status” families – those comprised of U.S. citizens and noncitizens – in Massachusetts.

Although the report focuses on our New England neighbor, the same impacts are being felt in Maine, although of course on a smaller scale, due to Maine’s smaller population of immigrants in all categories.  But policies such as the ban on visas from predominantly Muslim countries like Somalia, the overall drastic reduction in refugee admissions, the termination of the DACA and TPS programs, the enhanced power of immigration officials to deny routine applications for employment based and other visas, among other changes, are all affecting Maine, dividing families and shrinking the population of immigrants who strengthen our workforce and communities.

The report is concise, clear, and worth a read, despite its Massachusetts focus.

House Passes Path to Permanency for DACA and TPS holders

On June 4, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, with a bipartisan 237 to 187 majority.  As explained here, the bill would provide a path to permanent residency and eventual U.S. citizenship to immigrants who arrived here as children and who have grown up in the U.S., including those currently holding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.   It would do the same for those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who have held that status for years.

Right now, only federal court orders are preventing the government from forcing about 1 million DACA and TPS holders to leave the U.S.   With our aging population, shrinking labor pool, and low birth rates, the economic costs to the nation would be enormous.  The American Action Forum estimated conservatively that

DACA recipients have a net positive fiscal impact of $3.4 billion each year and contribute nearly $42 billion to annual GDP. Failing to extend DACA protections would eliminate these benefits, and physically removing DACA recipients would impose an additional cost of between $7 and $21 billion.

For TPS holders, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center estimated the economic costs of their removal from the country, and found that

▪ Deporting all Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian TPS holders would cost taxpayers $3.1 billion dollars.
▪ Ending TPS for these three countries would result in a $6.9 billion reduction to Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade.
▪ Ending TPS for these three countries would lead to a $45.2 billion reduction in GDP over a decade.
▪ The wholesale lay-off of the entire employed TPS population from these three countries would result in $967 million of turnover costs.

And of course, these costs don’t include the social and moral costs to our communities in which these individuals are our neighbors, family members, collegues, employees, employers, volunteers, and parents of U.S. citizen children.

MeBIC applauds Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden for supporting L.D. 6.  It was the right vote for Maine communities, for Maine’s economy, and for the nation.

Now the ball is in the Senate’s court.  S. 874, the bipartisan Dream Act of 2019 is a good starting point.  Let’s urge them to do the right thing and pick it up.

Immigrants’ Importance to Elder and Health Care Sectors

A study published in the June 2019 issue of Health Affairs highlights the important role of immigrants in the U.S. health care sector, and particularly in the elder care sector.

The study notes that immigrants are represented in all aspects of healthcare, from doctors to home health aides.   They are particularly present in elder and long-term care facilities, including in non-medical settings.  It points out that the nation’s elder population is slated to double by 2050, and demand for direct care workers is projected to increase by 34%, or 650,000 more workers, in the next decade.

The study details how immigrants are over-represented, compared to their percentage of the nation’s population, as health care workers, finding that “in 2017 immigrants accounted for 18.2 percent of health care workers and 23.5 percent of formal and nonformal long-term care sector workers. More than one-quarter (27.5 percent) of direct care workers and 30.3 percent of nursing home housekeeping and maintenance workers were immigrants. Although legal noncitizen immigrants accounted for 5.2 percent of the US population, they made up 9.0 percent of direct care workers. Naturalized citizens, 6.8 percent of the US population, accounted for 13.9 percent of direct care workers.”

The study notes further that immigration policies may worsen the shortage of available health care workers.

In light of the current and projected shortage of health care and direct care workers, our finding that immigrants fill a disproportionate share of such jobs suggests that policies curtailing immigration will likely compromise the availability of care for elderly and disabled Americans.

Food for thought in Maine, the nation’s oldest state.

 

 

Japan Opening to Immigration to Solve Demographic Woes

This piece in Bloomberg looks at how Japan is dealing with its aging population and shrinking labor force by opening its borders to foreigners in unprecedented fashion.

As we’ve noted previously, Japan passed laws in recent years allowing both an influx of new residents and a path, albeit a slow one,  to residency for guest workers.  As a result, the number of foreigners in Japan increased 6.6% in 2018 over 2017 figures.

The article notes that because Japan has been such a closed society, the influx of foreigners will require societal adjustments.   Nonetheless, Japan’s current government understands that the solution to its demographic challenges lies in welcoming immigrants.

Despite the current rhetoric in the U.S. and recent administration policies  to the contrary, the U.S.’s experience with immigrants from around the globe, who  work, spend, pay taxes and create new businesses, indicate that by opening its doors to more immigration, Japan is making a smart decision for its economic future.

State Department Implements Heightened Social Media Vetting

On May 31, 2019, the State Department announced  implementation of a policy first announced two years ago to increase its scrutiny of social media activity of visa applicants.  Visa applicants will have to provide their “handles” or identifiers for all social media accounts they have signed up for or used, however briefly, in the five previous years.

The policy affects both immigrants coming permanently, and nonimmigrants coming temporarily to the U.S. who must apply for a visa.  Exempted for the most part will be nonimmigrants including diplomats or those working for NATO or international organizations such as the United Nations, or visitors entering under the Visa Waiver program.  All other nonimmigrants, such as visitors needing to travel with visitor visas,  international students, and those coming on temporary professional or seasonal work visas, to name only a few, must provide their social media identifiers.  Visa applicants will also be asked for all of their email addresses and telephone numbers used in the previous five years.

As we’ve explained previously, this policy will lead to an increase in visa denials, both of those applying for nonimmigrant visas, and for immigrant visas,  including immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.   Read the different ways that this new rule could cause visa denials in this post.

With visa denials in all categories already at record levels, the administration’s implementation of this new regulation strikes yet another blow against those trying to come to the U.S. legally.

2019 State Legislation: May 30th Update

Here’s a recap of activity and bills of interest to MeBIC at the State Legislature since our March update.

MeBIC’s priority bills that have been approved in committee

  • LD 647:  An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents to Strengthen the Workforce

On May 22, 2019, the Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business (IDEA) voted that LD 647  “Ought to Pass” by a 9 to 3 margin.  LD 647 is described in more detail in this prior MeBIC post.   Key points about the bill can be found here.

While LD 647 benefits Maine’s immigrants, it is a workforce development bill in its impact.  Many MeBIC partners submitted in support of LD 647, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Health Care Association, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Maine Health, Penobscot Community Health Care, Pro Search, Inc., GWI, Ready Seafood, Street & Co. restaurant group,  American Roots, along with other MeBIC allies, such as the Association of General Contractors of Maine.

The bill now moves to the House and Senate for floor votes.   The biggest challenge will be getting funding from the Appropriations Committee following the floor votes.   It may be necessary to carry the bill over to 2020 since there is an extremely limited amount of funding available for initiatives that are not included in the state budget document.

  • LD 1685:   An Act to Facilitate Entry of Immigrants into the Workforce

On May 22, 2019,  LD 1685 achieved bipartisan support when the Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business (IDEA) voted unanimously that it “Ought to Pass.”    MeBIC and several allies including coalition partner Maine State Chamber of Commerce testified in support of the bill.

LD 1685, proposed by MeBIC and the New Mainers Resource Center, and introduced by Representative Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston, would provide interest-free loans to asylum seekers (who under federal law cannot get a work permit until their applications have been pending for 180 days) and others waiting for their initial work permits.

The loans would be for specific expenses related to helping these immigrants be work ready at their highest potential by taking advantage of the time while awaiting their work permits.   Qualifying expenses would include fees for translation and evaluation of education and/or experience credentials, for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or similar exams, for drivers licenses, for fingerprinting of  those who will be seeking work in jobs that require background checks, etc.

By helping these individual get their credentials evaluated while they wait for their work permits, once they are authorized to work, they can immediately look for jobs that more closely match their skill levels.  The loan program would be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.

The bill now moves to the House and Senate for floor votes.   The bill has a very small fiscal note, so MeBIC is cautiously optimistic that it will receive funding from the Appropriations Committee.

 


Bills already heard that MeBIC has supported 

  • LD 777An Act to Create a Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Populations

Many of Maine’s immigrants are people of color, and issues that impact people of color generally also may affect them, unfortunately, adversely.

LD 777, which had a public hearing on May 2, 2019, would create a permanent commission to study socio-economic disparities among racial, indigenous and tribal populations in Maine.   It will work with state agencies and other stakeholders to examine quantitative and qualitative data on a variety of factors, such as business ownership, household assets, debts and income, housing, employment, and access to inherited wealth, capital, and benefits.  It will be authorized to devise programs or suggest legislation, and to work with the Governor’s office and state officials towards improving opportunities and eliminating disparities.

Existing data shows that Mainers of color are more than twice as likely to be poor and unemployed than non-Hispanic white Mainers.  White Mainers are 1.5 times more likely to be homeowners, and twice as likely to be business owners.   Disparities also exist in public schools, with white students more likely to be enrolled in AP courses, and less likely to be suspended,  than students of color.  These issues are systemic and require systemic solutions.

No Mainers, including immigrants of diverse ethnic and racial origins, should have their ability to reach their full potential diminished because of systemic barriers.

MeBIC believes that LD 777 is an important first step, and would demonstrate Maine’s commitment to identifying, advancing, evaluating and refining  solutions to address challenges and to remove barriers that may prevent many Mainers of color, including native born and recent immigrants alike, from achieving equity and being able to live and contribute to their maximum potential here in Maine.  MeBIC submitted written testimony in support of LD 777.

The bill was voted out of committee on May 10th with a divided report.

  • LD 1475:  An Act to Eliminate Profiling in Maine

Those who work with or are friends or family members of immigrants of color are well aware that profiling of people of color by law enforcement officials happens in Maine. In 2009, Maine’s legislature created an Advisory Committee to study the issue.  MeBIC’s executive director was a member of that Committee.   A problem identified by the Committee was the lack of detailed data maintained by law enforcement agencies on the characteristics of those stopped, detained or arrested, which made it both impossible to establish a baseline of the extent of the issue, and to identify trends either in an improving or worsening direction.

While many positive changes were made as a result of the Committee’s work, most were voluntary and not mandatory, and data collection was not required.  Ten years after the establishment of that committee, profiling still occurs.  This bill would mandate that all law enforcement entities have policies prohibiting profiling and that their personnel receive relevant training, and would require data collection and tracking.

Maine is the nation’s oldest, and whitest, state.   We need to attract people to the state to live and work here, and to be successful, our state must be perceived as welcoming to all.   LD 1475 would help ensure that people of color will not be singled out (instances of which appear in MeBIC’s testimony in support of the bill) for stops and questioning just because of their outward appearance).

As Maine competes for talent with other states that are also seeing their workforces shrink as the Baby Boom generation retires, LD 1475 sends the right message that all are welcome in Maine.

LD 1475 was voted out of committee on May 29th with a divided report.

  • LD 1584:   An Act To Attract, Build and Retain an Early Childhood Education Workforce through Increased Training, Education and Career Pathways

Lack of childcare for pre-school age children is an enormous barrier to engaging fully in the workforce, for native U.S. citizens and immigrants alike. And lack of both quantity and quality early educators contributes to the shortage of childcare centers.

This bill approaches the shortage of early educators by creating professional career pathways that, together with increased pay scales, will help the profession attract and retain more individuals with the inclination and aptitute to care for and educate our youngest children.

MeBIC supports the bill, but has also urged the Legislature to amend it to include language to ensure that immigrants will have equitable access to the training programs and apprenticeships that the bill proposes, for example, through inclusion of English as a Second Language offerings .  You can find a link to our testimony here.

LD 1584 was voted out of committee on May 14th with an anticipated divided report.

  • LD 1596: An Act to Enhance the Long-term Stability of Certain At-risk Youth

Federal immigration law allows immigrant youth who are unmarried and under 21 who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both of their parents to apply for permanent residency in order to obtain the permanent status in the U.S. that they need to ensure their safety and well-being.  A prerequisite, however, is that a state court, after reviewing their facts, must confirm that they have suffered abuse, neglect or abandonment, and must issue special findings concerning the youth.

Maine is one of many states in which these at-risk youth cannot even get into court after turning 18.  Many states have changed their laws to allow this specific class of child to have access to the courts up until age 21.   LD 1596 would do the same.   Without this change, these youth may leave Maine to become residents of states where they can access the courts and then file for  permanent residency.  There is no guarantee that they will then return to Maine.

The number of youth who would benefit from LD 1596 is small, estimated at 10 to 20 per year, but the benefit to them is immeasurable, and their gaining permanent residency will also benefit the state.  These are youth who are at the beginning of their working trajectories who have already chosen to make Maine their home.   We need them to stay and be able to live and work to their fullest potential right here in Maine.

Testimony in support of the bill, including MeBIC’s, is here.   The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve LD 1596 on May 21st.   The bill now moves to the House and Senate.  Because it has a minimal fiscal note, MeBIC is cautiously optimistic that it will become law if it is approved by both chambers.


Bills that MeBIC Opposed

  • LD 1077 to mandate use of E-Verify fails  MeBIC opposed LD 1077, which would have required all Maine employers to use the federal E-Verify web-based system to verify employment authorization of all staff (in addition to completing the USCIS I-9 employment eligibility verification form).   The bill was voted down in the Legislature on May 2, 2019.  You can read more details about why MeBIC opposed LD 1077  and find a link to our testimony here.

 

  • LD 1449 to mandate that state and local law enforcement engage in immigration law enforcement.   MeBIC testified in opposition to this bill on May 22, 2019, because it will damage public safety and also harm Maine’s economy.  At a time when Maine needs to attract more, not less, immigrants, due to our aging demographics and shrinking labor supply, this bill send the exact wrong message, letting individuals of color and immigrants generally know that they will be subject to scrutiny.   This is the opposite of the welcoming message Maine should be broadcasting.

The first legislation of this kind was enacted in Arizona more than a decade ago.  The bulk of that legislation was struck down in the the federal courts, but not before the legislation resulted in millions in lost revenue to the state.

The bill was voted out of committee with a divided report in opposition on May 29, 2019.

 

Update on Citizenship Question on Census 2020

UPDATE:  The Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the decision to add the citizenship status question to Census 2020 on April 25, 2019.  Court watchers reported that oral argument lasted far longer than usual, with vigorous questioning of both sides.   A decision must be issued before the Court’s term ends on June 30th.  The government is slated to print the actual Census 2020 forms in July.

However, recent evidence emerged othat a G.O.P. strategist on redistricting was involved in advising the Trump administration’s transition team and the Department of Commerce to add the citizenship status question specifically in order to provide an electoral edge to Republican and Non-Hispanic Whites. Attorneys notified the Supreme Court on May 30th about the new evidence, and arguments are scheduled in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, the first court to rule on the citizenship question, for June 5, 2019.


On April 5, 2019, a Federal District Court in Maryland became the third court to rule that the Department of Commerce cannot add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 decennial Census.

As we have written previously, the purpose of the decennial census is to measure the entire U.S. population, regardless of immigration status.  The census count is used to apportion congressional representation,  to inform the distribution of some federal funds, and is relied upon by the private sector as well.

The Maryland federal court’s decision joins those by federal courts in New York and California in blocking the government from adding the question to the census forms.   The administration has already appealed the issue to the Supreme Court, which will hear oral argument later in April, with a decision expected before the end of June 2019.