PORTLAND, Maine — On Thursday evening, state Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst will visit the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus to give a talk called “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis.”
Lockman, who has long been controversial for his statements on homosexuality, rape, abortion and more recently immigration, is slated to discuss what he calls the failure of America’s “open border” policy. His invitation to speak on campus from student group Young Americans for Freedom comes as Maine immigrants are on edge over recent government raids and deportation and after protesters have shut down talks by right-wing firebrands elsewhere in the country.
The Thursday talk has already stirred controversy, with students and activists calling for it to be canceled and planning protests, while USM President Glenn Cummings has said the event must be allowed to proceed as part of the free and open debate of ideas.
Lockman is presently pushing for a bill, LD 366, that would cut off state funding to cities and towns that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The proposed law appears to be a jab at left-leaning Portland, which has a policy of cooperating with federal authorities but also bars employees from asking about people’s immigration states.
In the interest of having an informed debate, here are some facts about immigration in Maine and America:
Around 3.5 percent of Maine’s 1.33 million residents were born in another country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which says that about 25,000 of the state’s immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens. Maine is a contender for the least diverse state in the nation and its immigrant population is mostly clustered in and around its larger cities.
In this graying state where deaths consistently outnumber births, people moving in from other countries is the only thing that’s staved off population loss in recent years. As Maine’s population ages out of the workforce, economists see immigration as essential to preventing a potential labor crisis.
There were fewer than 5,000 unauthorized immigrants in Maine as of 2012, according to an estimate by the Pew Research Center. As Pew defines it, this group includes asylum seekers who entered the U.S. legally but don’t have legal status while going through the lengthy process of applying for asylum. For years, Gov. Paul LePage has been trying to stop Portland from providing basic needs benefits to this group.
Despite Gov. Paul LePage’s periodic pronouncements that Portland is a “sanctuary city,” local officials argue that the label doesn’t fit because of the city’s policy of cooperating with federal law enforcement — including immigration agents. The city also has a regulation that broadly bars employees, including police, from asking about people’s immigration status. It is unclear how the Department of Homeland Security will define “sanctuary cities,” which is not a settled legal term, for the purposes of Trump’s ordered funding cuts to them.
For years, refugees coming to Maine or any other state have been put through a multi-phase screening process that is administered by the United Nations and multiple agencies of the U.S. government, including the departments of State and Homeland Security. The process, which often takes 18 to 24 months, includes lengthy interviews with Homeland Security officials and running the refugees’ fingerprints and biographic information through federal criminal and terrorism databases. Syrian refugees were put through additional screening, even before Trump’s promise of “extreme vetting.” For one of the first Syrian families to arrive in Maine, the screening process took years.
In 2013, an Iranian man who came to Maine as a refugee in 2009 traveled to Lebanon to fight for the Islamic State, the Portland Press Herald first reported. He was killed abroad, but an FBI investigation suggested that Adnan Fazeli was radicalized while living in Freeport. The FBI was alerted to Fazeli by his brother, who in addition to being an immigrant is a prominent doctor and chair of the the board of the Maine Medical Association.