2019 State Legislation: March Update

The 129th Legislature is in full swing, with several bills introduced that would make Maine a more, or less, welcoming state for immigrants.   Here is a rundown of some of the bills that MeBIC is following so far.

Bills MeBIC supports:

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

LD 647 is this session’s version of last session’s LD 1492, which passed both chambers but did not receive an appropriation.  LD 647 would provide funding to expand the availability statewide of adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, offer combined ESL and job training at worksites in public/private partnerships, expand the New Mainers Resource Center model operating in Portland into the Lewiston-Auburn area, and provide funds for planning grants for communities experiencing growing influxes of immigrants to assess services needed to help reduce brain waste and accelerate immigrant integration.

Lack of English fluency is one of the biggest barriers hindering immigrants from reaching their full potential in the workforce and in our communities. Maine’s immigrants want to improve their English, but often face daunting waiting lists to get into adult education ESL classes in Portland and Lewiston, or find that classes matching their level of English are simply not offered yet in communities whose immigrant populations have been growing recently, such Augusta, Bangor and Biddeford.  Moreover,  workplace-based contextualized ESL classes combined with job training, as proposed in the bill, not only make ESL classes more accessible, but also improve  workplace skills.  LD 647 would help lower barriers to immigrant integration, benefiting immigrants and Maine’s labor supply alike.

LD 647 does not yet have a hearing date scheduled.  You can read a brief summary here.

  • LD 532 and LD 769:  Addressing barriers to credentialing and licensure

Immigrants who gain their education and experience abroad often cannot practice their profession in Maine due to lack of recognition of their foreign credentials.   LD 532 addresses barriers to licensure faced by a broad range of individuals, including, but not limited to immigrants.  LD 769 is specifically about barriers faced by foreign-educated and trained individuals.

Both bills direct the Department of Professional and Financial Responsibility to study how to begin to eradicate unnecessary licensure requirements or to provide alternative pathways to licensure.

Maine’s immigrants are highly educated and skilled. Data derived from the U.S. Census shows that as of 2017, more immigrants in Maine have graduate degrees than do our native-born citizens (21.3% compared to 11.7%), and immigrants have bachelors degrees at virtually the same rate as native-born Mainers (19.4% compared to 20%).  Yet Maine’s immigrants have high rates of so-called “brain waste”, where they are underemployed, working at jobs that are far beneath their skill level.  Estimates are that in 2017, nearly a quarter (24.2%) of Maine’s foreign born population was underemployed.

Maine needs every working-age individual in the state to be able to work to her or his highest and best potential.  MeBIC testified in favor of both LD 532 and LD 769.

Bills MeBIC opposes:

  • LD 1077, An Act To Ensure Fair Employment Opportunity for Maine Citizens and Legal Residents by Requiring the Use of a Federal Immigration Verification System

This bill would require all Maine employers  to use the Federal E-Verify computer system in addition to the required use of the USCIS form I-9 to verify that new hires are authorized to work in the U.S.

E-Verify was created in 1996 and every attempt in Congress to mandate its use by all employers nationwide has failed, though federal contractors must use it.  Nationwide, according to the Cato Institute, only about 13.5% of all employers have enrolled in E-Verify, and only four states mandate its use by all employers.   E-Verify is particularly burdensome for smaller employers without dedicated human resources staff, especially if they have substantial seasonal hires.

MeBIC testified against LD 1077 at a hearing on March 27, 2019.  A work session on the bill is scheduled for April 3, 2019.   You can read more about why MeBIC opposes mandated use of E-Verify here.

  • LD 1449, An Act To Facilitate Compliance with Federal Immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities

This bill is a solution in search of a problem.   There is no department of state government and no municipality in Maine that prevents cooperation with federal immigration authorities, but LD 1449 would prohibit such an action.  It would also authorize state and local employees to act as immigration agents, asking for immigration status of those they encounter.   As a practical matter, this bill will result in ethnic and racial profiling, and make Maine hostile territory for people of color, whether they are immigrants or native-born.

Other states that have tried to pass similar laws have faced strong corporate opposition since businesses want to operate in communities where a diverse workforce will feel welcome.  Arizona, one of the first states to pass a so-called “show me your papers” law, also experienced plummeting tourism revenues in response.

This bill would hurt Maine’s economy, sparking potential boycotts and dissuading people of color, whether native born or immigrants, from moving to Maine.   Maine needs immigrants, to keep population levels from shrinking and to have vibrant communities and a robust workforce.   LD 1449  sends exactly the wrong message.

MeBIC will oppose LD 1449 once a hearing date is scheduled.