Refugees: Good News, Bad News


Portland, Maine has good news about refugees—and for refugees. The state and city are committed to welcoming refugees rather than turning them away. That means Portland is feeling financial strain on its refugee assistance funds. If you want to help, you can give to Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services in Portland, Maine, or contact them to find out other places to give.

“A growing number of families are attempting to flee violence and persecution in sub-Saharan Africa by embarking on a long, difficult and dangerous journey through South and Central America and Mexico in hopes of reaching the southern U.S. border and asking for asylum.

“And many of those who succeed are choosing the same unlikely final destination: Portland, Maine….

“In addition, unlike refugees who come to the United States with federal resettlement funds and support, asylum seekers are on their own to find food and housing, as well as legal assistance and other services. Asylum seekers also are not allowed to work for at least six months while waiting for their cases to be decided….

“City officials say that other immigrants who originally came to the United States with temporary visas also are moving to the city in larger numbers. And some of them are relying on a separate city assistance fund set up to support noncitizens who are not eligible for state General Assistance because they have not yet formally filed asylum applications.

“The City Council allocated $200,000 to that fund for the current fiscal year, which began in July. But nearly half of that money was used up in the first three months, and spending has continued at an unprecedented rate, according to city officials.”

Portland goes against administration policy, which is to make life harder and seeking refuge in the United States next to impossible. Writing in the Washington Post, the director of New York’s Tenement Museum puts today’s hostility toward refugees in historical perspective, part of our long and ignominious history of racist and exclusionary immigration legislation.

“This policy is rooted in the notion that those seeking asylum are doing something inherently wrong and should have to “pay” for the privilege. Increasingly, the Trump administration treats asylum seekers like criminal wrongdoers rather than people fleeing life-threatening conditions in the hope of finding safety and starting new lives….

“The assumption behind [restrictive immigration] legislation — that some people are not worthy of becoming American — is vastly different from the expansive vision of George Washington, who wrote to a group of Irish immigrants in 1783: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights & privileges.”

The Associated Press reported from the border, talking with people waiting on the Mexican side of the border, trapped there by the Trump administration’s “metering” policies that restrict admission of asylum seekers:

“This is what has happened since the Trump administration placed asylum in a chokehold.

“The Associated Press visited eight cities along the U.S.-Mexico border and found 13,000 immigrants on waiting lists to get into the country — exposed to haphazard and often-dubious arrangements that vary sharply….

In some cities, days pass without anyone being processed, the AP found. In San Diego, up to 80 are handled each day, but the line in Tijuana, across the border, is the longest anywhere — about 4,800 people….

“But some feel they cannot. They try to enter illegally, sometimes with tragic consequences.

“A Honduran family, arriving at Piedras Negras, Mexico, decided the line was too long. Crossing the Rio Grande, they were swept away; a father and three children, including a baby, are believed to have died….

“The challenges faced by asylum seekers waiting in Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas, are compounded by rampant violence.

“There were 1,472 murders recorded last year in the state of Tamaulipas, where Reynosa is located. Gunfights between cartels and police occur daily, and the U.S. State Department has warned Americans not to travel there.”

For an inspiring story of what refugees can and do accomplish in Minnesota, read the St. Cloud Times account of Suud Olaf’s college graduation and the contributions he has already made to the community, state, and nation. Olaf’s family lived for more than 20 years in the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya, finally getting permission to come to the United States when Olaf was about six months old. Today, they would be barred by the Trump administration’s ban on all immigrants from Somalia and from several other mostly-Muslim countries. Olaf graduates from St. Cloud State University today. He and his older sister are the first college graduates in their family.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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