Maine’s largest city is known for accepting illegal immigrants with open arms, providing resources and accommodations as they wait years for asylum claims to process through a system that prohibits them from working.
And while Mayor Ethan Strimling continues to welcome waves of border crossers into Portland, other city officials are raising the alarm about overwhelmed local shelters and questioning whether accepting more will do more harm than good, the Portland Press Herald reports.
It’s been a year since city officials warned the mayor that its family shelter was approaching its maximum capacity of 146 people, fueled by an influx of immigrants from Angola and the Congo who passed through the southern border to seek asylum.
Despite the warning, charities in Texas have continued to send dozens more immigrants as shelters there have struggled to keep pace with thousands coming across the southern border every day. The situation means many in Portland are now sleeping on floor mats in a Salvation Army gymnasium – prohibited from working for at least six months – as city staff and taxpayers attend to their needs and cover their costs.
Strimling, who describes Portland as a sanctuary city “with a small ‘s,’” responded to President Trump’s proposal in April to bus illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities with a big welcome.
“If he wants to send more immigrants our way, bring them on,” he said, according to the Bangor Daily News.
But at least one local official is contacting shelters in other areas of the country to deter more folks from heading to the city, where asylum seekers now make up about 90 percent of the city shelter’s population, The Wall Street Journal reports.
During a recent city budget meeting, Portland Human Resources Director Gina Tapp offered her assessment on Strimling’s open-arms embrace of illegal immigrants who are overwhelming a system that’s already over capacity.
“I feel like I need to speak up for my staff, who are so well-meaning and trying to do the best they can,” Tapp said. “When you say ‘bring them in,’ it’s bringing them to a place that is overcrowded and they’re on mats. You’re putting them in a terrible position. Please think about what you’re asking of our staff.”
The criticism elicited gasps in the wildly liberal city.
Strimling described the comments as a “curious exchange” and essentially ignored the concerns.
“I believe the people of this city want us to welcome immigrants without question,” he said.
City Manager John Jennings, Tapp’s boss, condemned the human resources director and called her comments “out-of-bounds and unacceptable.”
“I think we’re all concerned about the volume we have to deal with,” he said, adding that he spoke with Tapp but she won’t be punished. “I do apologize to the mayor for what was said. It is something that city staff can complain to me and voice their concerns about, but that was not appropriate for a public setting.”
Aside from physical space, asylum seekers are also taking a toll on the city budget, prompting officials to consider scrapping a “Community Support Fund” to pay asylum seekers who run out of state General Assistance money.
That fund is about $36,000 over the $200,000 councilors allocated for the current budget, though the city took in $46,000 in private donations to help pay rent for those already enrolled, the Press Herald reports.
If the state doesn’t allocate more money to deal with asylum seekers, city officials