The editorial writers for the Portland Press Herald have never been known for having original ideas or coherent policy recommendations.
But an editorial the newspaper printed last week is so detached from the situation on the ground, so devoid of common sense, so infantile in its understanding of how government operates that it leads one to question whether the authors live in an alternate reality.
I’ve seen higher quality thinking from high schoolers — even ones from Maine public schools.
Those few septuagenarians who still subscribe to the paper will tuck it next to the fireplace along with the kindling.
But the virtue-signaling drivel over Maine’s migrant crisis and the General Assistance welfare program deserves a response.
First, we should clean up a falsehood the Press Herald’s editorial advances concerning migrants’ eligibility to work in Maine.
“And since asylum seekers began arriving in large numbers in 2019, [General Assistance has] been one of the only ways to keep [migrants] afloat while the federal government refuses to let them work.”
The vast majority of asylum seekers currently in Maine are eligible for work right now because they’ve been here longer than six months. Legitimate asylum-seekers in most cases are eligible to receive work authorization six-months after they’ve filed a claim for asylum with federal immigration authorities.
New arrivals may not immediately be eligible to work due to the federal rules, but that’s hardly the limiting factor on an individual’s employment when they don’t speak English, have no transportation, and live in the Portland Expo with hundreds of strangers. In short, that federal rule is not the reason migrants are having a tough go.
The idea that the migrants would be entirely self-sufficient were it not for federal rules designed to discourage illegal economic migration is a fiction. Current efforts at the state and federal levels to allow migrants to work immediately after filing asylum claims will apply to such a small population of people as to be almost meaningless, apart from the further incentive this would create for migrants to come to the U.S. and Maine looking for economic opportunity.
On the migrant crisis, the Press Herald at least recognizes that Portland’s generous benefits serve as a magnet for migrants: “The city’s size and level of services mean it attracts a lot of vulnerable folks from other communities, in addition to asylum seekers.”
It’s refreshing to see progressives finally admitting that migrants are attracted to Maine because of benefits. Recognizing that Portland is “attracting” migrants and thereby creating a humanitarian crisis, a normal thinking person might say: Well, how might we stop attracting the migrants that are overrunning our social services?
But the newspaper’s editors are unable to fathom the idea that true humanitarianism might in some cases mean turning away economic migrants, discouraging them from coming to Maine, and ending the benefit programs that are leading them here. So they reach for the only policy tool they can ever imagine: more spending and more taxing.
“Without more state help, these communities will be forced to raise property taxes on residents already stressed by rising costs, or cut back on services that are both necessary and already limited.”
“As suggested in legislation now before lawmakers, Maine should increase the reimbursement rate for General Assistance to 90%, where it was prior to 2015.”
Kudos to the Maine Municipal Association for getting their talking points regurgitated. But where exactly do the Press Herald editorial writers think “state help” comes from? It’s correct that property taxes are going up to accommodate the strain on General Assistance welfare budgets and local schools, but the “state help” ultimately comes from taxpayers — working taxpayers.
How exactly does it solve any of the migrant-related problems to simply shift the manner in which Mainers are paying for it all?
The Herald doesn’t say.
Such a policy would be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, even if it makes it a little easier to write a budget at Portland City Hall. It’s just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Again, where do they think state reimbursement money comes from? Do the brilliant minds inveighing against actual reforms think that “have the state pay more” is a serious policy pronouncement?
Back to the Herald:
“A series of bills from Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican, aim to reduce General Assistance costs by making fewer people eligible through time limits and residency and work requirements. None of the bills have a chance at passing in the Democrat-led Legislature, and that’s a good thing. Brakey’s proposals would only leave more Mainers without the resources to get by.”
Sen. Brakey is one of the few lawmakers who has proposed legislation that would actually reduce the magnetic incentives policymakers have created that draw asylum seekers to Maine in the first place. He has an excellent bill that would disallow economic migrants from enrolling in General Assistance for a period of six months. If you don’t think migrants chase benefits, talk to the City of Sanford. They were overwhelmed last week when more than 100 migrants showed up at City Hall in response to a rumor that the benefits were better in Sanford than Portland.
Brakey’s other welfare reforms come at a time when it’s never been easier to get entry level work in Maine. The only Mainers who would be “left without the resources to get by” under tighter General Assistance rules are those who choose not to work. By removing disincentives to work and become self-sufficient, Brakey’s policy is actually more humane than what Maine is currently doing. And by removing part of the draw for migrants to continue flooding Maine, Brakey’s proposal would protect scarce resources, including housing, for Maine residents and those migrants who are already here.
The Portland-area progressives believe this is heartless, cruel. As opposed to their current big-hearted policy of having thousands of foreign migrants living on top of each other at the Portland Expo and other shelters while Maine residents sleep in tents next to Trader Joe’s. There’s no greater lie in Maine politics right now than the claim that progressive policies are humanitarian. It is left-wing policies that have created the boiling homelessness crisis in southern Maine. Sadly, they lack the imagination to come up with real solutions.
“The strain on General Assistance shows why we need a formal statewide program for coordinating services for the influx of asylum seekers. It shows we desperately need more affordable housing.”
Here the writers have reversed cause and effect. The strain on General Assistance is just a symptom of a migrant crisis fueled by Maine’s current policies. The housing crisis is a symptom of a migrant crisis fueled by Maine’s current policies. Those policies are, by and large, the policies of open borders and a generous welfare state.
Consider this: the typical path for migrants begins in Brazil. From there, they travel through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico before crossing into the United States.
If they are truly seeking asylum from persecution in Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo, why don’t they request asylum in those countries? Presumably whatever tyrannical force bent on genocide that caused them to flee their native country did not follow them into Brazil, or Guatemala, or Panama. Is there something those countries are or aren’t doing that make them less desirable locations for New Brazilians, New Guatemalans, or New Panamanians? Hmm…
After entering the U.S., often illegally, though the line between illegal and legal immigration is so blurry under the Biden Administration as to be almost meaningless, they skip 50 other jurisdictions in America. The migrants could find a new home in dozens of other states with better weather, but they instead come to Maine. Why is that? Is there something those states are or aren’t doing that make them less desirable locations than frigid Maine?
The problem we’re now encountering is that unlimited immigration and unlimited welfare cannot coexist permanently. Eventually, something has to give.
None of this is the fault of the migrants. They are simply rational actors responding to the economic incentives Maine’s politicians have created. Those migrants who are already in Maine must be cared for like any other vulnerable Mainer. But if Maine’s policy makers don’t change the policies that have created this crisis, that have spawned this disorderly migrant rush into Maine, then we’ll continue to deal with the consequences. The people who will suffer the most under the status quo won’t be the wealthy white liberals in southern Maine who voted for these policies; it will be poor Mainers and the migrants themselves.