Plan to create Office of New Americans advances to Maine House, Senate

The bill was approved by the legislative committee. It would create a two-person office that would help immigrants integrate better into the state.

A legislative committee advanced a proposal for the creation of an Office of New Americans within the state government. This would help support Maine’s increasing immigrant population, and the communities that welcome them.

Tuesday, the State and Local Government Committee supported L.D. The bill, 2167, would create a 2-person office within the Governor’s Office of Policy, Innovation and the Future, whose task would be to improve the economic and civic inclusion of immigrants in the state. Five Democrats and an independent voted for the bill, while three Republicans opposed it.

The bill will now be voted on in both the House and Senate.

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In a written statement, Rep. Deqa Dhalac (D-South Portland), the bill’s author, said that the bill was the culmination of hundreds of working hours by people in the Governor’s Office and business groups, as well as members of Maine’s immigrants communities.

“I am extremely grateful to all who took the time and effort to collaborate on this project, which will I believe usher in a brand new era of opportunities for those born in Maine as well as for those who have chosen to call this state home.”

Maine has more than 56,000 people who are foreign-born, a significant increase from the 36,700 that lived there in 2000. This is according to the plan for the creation of a new state office released last month by the Mills Administration.

A governor’s executive order. Janet Mills, who directed her office last year to develop the plan, made Maine the 19th U.S. state to join the Office of New Americans State Network. This is a consortium of U.S. States that maintain offices or staff dedicated to coordinating immigrants’ integration. Utah, Wisconsin, and North Dakota were also among the states to join the network in 2017.

The structure, budgets and priorities of the state-level offices for new Americans vary across the country. However, all have the same mission: to promote the economic and civic inclusion of immigrants.

The Maine office will focus on improving English-language learning opportunities for immigrants, creating pathways for employment and supporting entrepreneurs, as well as improving coordination between organizations that support immigrants.

The program would also monitor federal immigration policy, and encourage collaboration with Maine’s congressional delegation on policies that are beneficial to the state. It would also improve Maine’s data gathering regarding the state’s immigrants.

The bill will have a small note covering the costs of two staffers – compared to the four that were recommended in the Mills plan. However, the note has not yet been released.

Last week, the committee held a hearing to gather written and oral testimony. Businesses, local leaders, and immigrant advocates all voiced support for the proposal, but some Republican legislators expressed opposition during last week’s hearing.

Supporters said the office would help small communities deal with immigration influxes and employers by integrating new immigrants into Maine’s work force. Proponents claim that the office will help new arrivals who have professional skills and experiences get connected to accreditation programs, so they can continue their career here.

Dhalac is a Somalian and the first Somali-American Mayor in the United States. He emphasized the importance of welcoming immigrants in an ageing population with a shortage of workers.

She said, “Those of us, who left our countries of origin to become residents of Maine, whether by force or our own free will, always wanted to work and to be part of the community.” “We came here, to Maine, in the hopes of helping our neighbor, supporting our family, and creating a meaningful existence.”

Some opponents claim that the proposal would divert resources from Maine residents to immigrants.

Rep. Mike Soboleski (R-Phillips) said, “You cannot have an open immigration and a generous welfare state.” It will ultimately collapse the system. Maine taxpayers already struggle to pay their bills due to inflation and Washington D.C. spending. They cannot support an additional 75,000 residents in the state.

He said, “We must take care of ourselves first.”

Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo) is concerned about the allocation to new arrivals of taxpayer resources when many Mainers face economic hardship. Smith stated that a new office in Maine to further the federal government’s immigration policy is tone deaf.