When officials in Portland, Maine convened a meeting of the Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee Tuesday to discuss emergency measures to house a flood of illegal immigrants at The Expo – the local basketball arena – 72 mostly African asylum seekers had arrived in the previous three days.
By the end of the 3 ½-hour meeting, the total had jumped to 86, the Press Herald reports.
“It’s not sustainable to have the only program in the whole darn country paid for by 67,000 people,” Portland City Counselor Jill Duson complained, referring the Portland Community Support Fund – the only municipally funded assistance program for asylum seekers in the U.S.
“It’s not about telling people don’t come,” she said. “It’s about being clear that the nine of 10 other programs we’re committed to are still here.”
A drastic increase in illegal immigrants seeking asylum at the Mexico border are requesting border officials direct them to Portland, mostly sub-Saharan Africans from countries like Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We heard that Maine was a place where a lot of people have been able to get asylum,” a man named Matare told the Press Herald in December. Matare explained how he and others traveled for two months, 13,100 miles through South and Central America, walking through jungles and over mountains, to arrive at the southern border.
There, they apply for asylum status and border patrol agents process the request. They are then released into the U.S., with many from Africa bused to San Antonio.
The situation is overwhelming San Antonio city officials, who are now working with charities and cities in other areas of the country to accommodate the uninvited guests. Portland, Maine is well-known for welcoming asylum seekers and is often described as a sanctuary city, though local officials have discouraged the label in the past.
Regardless, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling has publicly courted illegal immigrants coming across the border and proudly barked back at President Trump when suggested relocating them to sanctuary cities this spring.
“Bring them on,” Strimling said, according to the Press Herald.
Weeks later, the city’s only shelter is well over capacity, as is a 75-person overflow at the Salvation Army. The $200,000 budget for the Portland Community Support Fund – money spent on food and other necessities for illegal immigrants as they wait to become eligible for state assistance – is now $86,000 over budget.
And that was before officials in San Antonio called this week with news that another 350 asylum seekers from Africa are on the way.
“The plan was 350 of them would travel from San Antonio to Portland,” San Antonio interim Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger told KENS 5. “When we reached out to Portland, Maine, they said, ‘Please don’t send us any more. We’re already stretched way beyond our capacity.”