Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order Wednesday intended to establish a new migrant resettlement office, telling the Portland newspaper the administration’s goal is to attract 75,000 new workers to Maine.
The governor announced the goal as part of the press strategy for rolling out an executive order that will eventually create the “Office of New Americans,” a state office that will assist with migrant resettlement and integration throughout the state.
Mills told the liberal Portland Press Herald newspaper that the goal of attracting 75,000 migrant workers to Maine is part of her plan to supply businesses in Maine with “New Mainers” to fill job vacancies.
“New Mainers” is a euphemism that progressives and left-wing nonprofits in Maine have adopted to refer to migrants, refugees, asylum applicants, and illegal aliens who have settled in Maine. Some newspapers in the state have adopted the term as well.
It’s unclear whether Gov. Mills intends for those 75,000 new workers to come exclusively from foreign-born migration. Her office hasn’t clarified what it meant and her communications aides did not respond to inquiries Thursday.
The plan will be crafted by the governor’s advisors and delivered to her next year, so right now it’s not clear exactly how the migrant resettlement office would be funded, how expensive it would be for taxpayers, or whether it would be a cabinet level agency.
Republican lawmakers quickly panned the idea, questioning Mills’ prioritization of current and future migrants over the needs of Maine citizens. Some noted the governor’s refusal to support a bipartisan plan that would create a new cabinet level agency for child protective services.
“I hope the governor corrects her statement about adding 75,000 asylum seekers to the state of Maine,” House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) told the Maine Wire.
“Her office has grossly mishandled the asylum seeker situation,” Faulkingham said. “How does she propose increasing the population of the state by five percent when her solution for a few hundred asylum seekers is hotels and basketball stadiums?”
The eye-popping 75,000 number is a population much larger than Maine’s largest city of Portland — and Mills wants the mass immigration scheme executed by 2029.
Regardless of where exactly those new residents hale from, there will be logistical challenges to surmount for the state and local government.
To put that 75,000 number further into context: Piscataquis County had 17,165 residents in 2021, Aroostook County had 66,859, and the population of Bangor is just over 30,000.
The last time Maine experienced in-migration of such a magnitude was in the post-World War II Era. From 1945 to 1950, U.S. Census figures show an estimated 117,000 people moved to Maine.
In more recent years, Maine’s population has grown far slower. Census figures show that from 2000 to 2021, Maine’s population increased by just 10,000 people, with deaths outstripping births and net in-migration weak.
Since the first waves of Somali asylum seekers began arriving in Maine during the Baldacci Administration, in response to “sanctuary” policies at the state and local level and easy access to government assistance, the state has never had a system or database in place to track how many foreign nationals have settled.
The entire foreign-born population of Maine is currently only 50,000, according to the governor’s office. Those numbers appear to come from the American Immigration Council, which bases their estimates on U.S. Census figures and community survey data. The real number of migrants currently living in Maine may be far higher since the state has never adopted practices to keep track.
Over the past five years, as migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Haiti have flocked to southern Maine and joined the General Assistance rolls in the Greater Portland Area, the municipalities providing those welfare and housing benefits have pointedly declined to track how many foreign nationals are receiving assistance. But regardless of the actual number of foreign-born migrants now residing in Maine, that number has been attained only after more than two decades of sanctuary city policies in southern Maine attracting migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
Mills’ audacious goal — some might say ludicrous — is to bring 150 percent more migrants to Maine in a quarter of the time it took the first 50,000 to arrive. It’s a vast re-settlement operation to consider for an administration that has struggled mightily to find a humane way to deal with the 5,000-10,000 migrants that have arrived unexpectedly in Maine since 2019. How will this be accomplished in a state that can barely manage payroll systems, can’t keep its nursing homes open, has thousands of disabled residents on waitlists for MaineCare coverage, has schools with plummeting test scores, has crumbling infrastructure it can barely maintain, and sometimes struggles to pay its school lunch ladies on time? Such an undertaking seems like a tall order for a state government that has trouble with more basic core functions. By the way, have you tried to book a doctor’s appointment lately? Our hospitals aren’t exactly function at peak performance.
In New York City, which has far superior municipal services and emergency housing systems compared to Maine’s largest cities, nearly 100,000 migrants have arrived and relied on public assistance, according to the office of Mayor Eric Adams. That level of migration to the city by homeless and jobless migrants has reached crisis levels, with hundreds of migrants openly sleeping on the streets this week. The city has even explored turning Central Park into migrant housing.
The problem that New York City is facing is the same problem Maine will face if it tries to fix Maine’s workforce shortage through a centrally planned mass migration strategy: housing. Whether Mills’ migrants come from Switzerland or Sudan or South Dakota, they’ll need places to live. Right now, those are hard to come by.
Maine is in the middle of an unprecedented housing shortage, a shortage that has been severely exacerbated by the pandemic-driven surge in legal migration of some 35,000 mostly well-to-do Americans and the couple thousands migrants claiming asylum.
According to housing inventory metrics tracked by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Maine had 2,439 houses available for sale in June — down from nearly 14,000 at the end of 2016.
On MaineListings.com, there are currently 1,422 active residential listings for less than $300,000.
At the same time the available supply of housing has shrunk, prices for available homes have increased sharply.
That increase in home prices has been driven by a pandemic slow-down in new construction, increased demand in Maine, more short-term rental activity (ie AirBnB), and also large financial firms increasingly buying up single and multi-family homes.
Those same dynamics have also driven up housing costs for renters.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, real estate, rental, and leasing earnings in Maine are near record highs.
Renting a single-family home in Maine can run as high as $3,000 to $4,000 per month in southern Maine — and that’s if you can find an opening.
According to data tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine’s rental housing vacancy is also very low. Just 4 percent of rental units were open to renters in 2022, down 11 percent in 1994.
If 75,000 “New Mainers” enter the housing market, Maine’s high real estate and rental prices will continue to climb, growing what is already a serious challenge for individuals and couples living in Maine and hoping to buy a home or find a rental.
Mills didn’t say where exactly the 75,000 migrants she wants to attract to Maine are supposed to live. But that’s a question her “Office of the Policy Innovation and the Future” as they endeavor to create the Office of New Americans and make good on her lofty goal.
Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) joined WVOM’s George Hale and Ric Tyler Show to talk about Gov. Mills’ plan to resettle 75,000 migrants in Maine by 2029 Thursday morning.