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Maine’s refugee community prepares for resettlements after Biden announcement

Report Your Closing | Newsradio WGAN
By Terry Stackhouse
Wednesday May 5, 2021

Refugee community prepares for resettlements after Biden announcement
Lewiston City Councilor Safiya Khalid

LEWISTON, Maine —Following a surprise announcement from President Joe Biden Monday, refugee resettlement workers in Maine are developing plans to help as many people as possible before the close of this fiscal year in September.

President Bided faced sharp criticism last month when he announced his administration would maintain the cap of 15,000 annual admissions for refugees, a historically low number instituted by former President Trump.

Biden raised the annual cap for this year to 62,500 on Monday and pledged to raise the cap next fiscal year to 125,000.

“People in the refugee camps are there for a lifetime, some of them,” said Safiya Khalid.

The Lewiston City Councilor considers herself lucky.

As a child, Khalid spent three years in a refugee camp in Kenya before resettlement in the U.S.

She’s pleased with President Biden’s decision to quadruple the refugee cap. She’s one of the many who pushed back on Biden’s now null April declaration maintaining the cap of 15,000 refugee admissions.

Khalid, originally from Somalia, is also a coordinator with Gateway Community Services, a nonprofit supporting new Mainers.

However, Monday’s announcement from President Biden also tapered expectations for refugee admissions.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year. We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years,” President Biden said in a statement.

Khalid says this first step towards citizenship has helped revitalize communities, most notably, Lewiston.

“To build better schools, better homes and better wages and all of that to see our kids see themselves so they can live in the community for a long, long time,” Khalid said.

Earlier this year a group of business and higher-ed leaders launched the Maine Compact on Immigration, calling for federal immigration reform to support the state’s workforce and economy.

They cite a study from New American Economy saying immigrants in Maine paid $464.4 million in taxes in 2019 and held $1.2 billion in spending power.

The group says cuts to refugee and family immigration have made workforce shortages worse and considers immigration critical to Maine's COVID-19 recovery.

“We’d love to see a consistent pipeline of refugees arriving to Maine so that families are reunited here,” said Hannah DeAngelis of Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services, the state’s only resettlement agency.

DeAngelis says raising the ceiling on admissions may signal a broader shift in strategy, allowing her agency to revamp staffing and services.

The number of refugees resettled in Maine each year fluctuates dramatically.

According to Catholic Charities, just 46 refugees arrived last year, 150 in 2019 but the final year of the Obama administration saw 623 refugees resettled in Maine.

DeAngelis says resettling 50-100 refugees in Maine this fiscal year is realistic.

“Folks are in very violent precarious situations and Maine is a place they can find safety,” DeAngelis said.

Now that Biden’s determination is clear, the rush is on for resettlement workers to help as many as possible before the September deadline.

For Khalid, who knows the pain of waiting, the resource she’s not willing to waste is time.


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