Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed migrant resettlement plan received a public hearing Tuesday afternoon before the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee
The bill, LD 2167, would establish the so-called “Office of New Americans” within the governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future (GOPIF), as well as create an advisory council for the office comprised of representatives from schools, small businesses, migrant resettlement agencies, and other stakeholder organizations.
The Mills Administration has said the ONA is aimed at helping the state meet its goal of attracting 75,000 new workers over the next five years by facilitating the incorporation of immigrants into Maine’s workforce.
The ONA’s stated purpose under the bill is to “undertake and promote activities that improve the economic and civic integration of immigrants into the State’s workforce in communities.”
“Everywhere you look across Maine, there are help wanted signs. We need workers, and New Americans, who want to support themselves and their families, can be one important part of that solution,” Gov. Mills said when unveiling the ONA plan at a Jan. 19 event in Westbrook. “My Administration will do what we can to ensure that every person can contribute to our economy and successfully enter and stay in our workforce.”
“As we strengthen our economy by attracting talented people to work in Maine, may this Office help us fully harness the contributions of New Americans who have chosen to make our state their home,” Mills said.
The activities with which the ONA will undertake the integration of immigrants into the workforce, as laid out in LD 2167, include:
- Improving pathways for professional accreditation and licensure;
- Increase employment, retention and advancement of immigrant employees;
- Expanding, improving and increasing access to English language learning programs;
- Supporting the expansion of access to legal services and protections;
- Partnering with and supporting municipalities, school administrative units, educational institutions, community-based organizations and businesses providing assistance or opportunities to immigrants;
- Working with the state’s refugee resettlement nonprofits to support the goals of the ONA.
If passed, starting Feb. 1, 2026, the ONA will be directed to provide a report to the governor biennially with information and recommendations relevant to the office’s “work and needs.”
Additionally, the bill proposes establishing the ONA advisory council as 19-member body that will advise the ONA on “matters affecting the long-term economic and civic integration of immigrants in the State.”
At least ten members of the ONA advisory council would be required under the law to be immigrants — eight of whom would appointed by the governor, one by the president of the Senate, and one by the Speaker of the House.
Additionally, three members of the advisory council would be appointed by the president of the senate would be required to represent a school administrative unit, an adult education program, and a small business.
Three members of the council, appointed by the House Speaker, would require representation from a refugee resettlement services organization, a provider of legal assistance to immigrants, and a municipality.
Appointments to the council which would be made by the governor, in addition to the eight required immigrants, would be a representative of a large business, a provider of housing assistance, and an organization with “demonstrated expertise in workforce development.”
The bill states that appointments must be made with a “good faith effort to ensure that the members of the advisory council reflect geographic, gender, ethnic and racial diversity.”
ONA advisory council members will serve 3-year terms and may be reappointed, and the governor is charged with appointing co-chairs from among the 19 council members.
If LD 2167 passes, Maine’s ONA will be integrated within the Office of New Americans State Network, which currently has 17 participating states with similar offices geared toward immigrant and refugee services.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Deqa Dhalac (D-South Portland), Sen. Richard Bennet (R-Oxford), House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), Rep. Holly Stover (D-Boothbay), Rep. Amanda Collamore (R-Pittsfield), Rep. Mana Abdi (D-Lewiston), and Sen. Margaret Rotundo (D-Androscoggin).
Lawmakers offer testimony for and against LD 2167
Rep. Dhalac, who is the bill’s primary sponsor and was the first Somali-born mayor in the United States, presented the bill to the State and Local Government Committee Tuesday.
“By establishing a central hub of information and resources for new Mainers, I believe we will usher in a new era of new opportunities for all Maine,” Dhalac said.
“Throughout our histories, our state’s history, we have been enriched by the presence of immigrants,” she said. “When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise the GDP.”
House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, who recently proposed a bill to allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses in Maine, also testified in support of LD 2167 during Tuesday’s public hearing.
“The establishment of an Office of New Americans reflects Maine’s commitment to inclusivity, and acknowledges the significant contributions immigrants bring to our communities,” Talbot Ross said. “Resilient, talented, and hardworking folks from all across the world are making Maine their new home, and we all stand to benefit.”
“By cultivating a welcoming environment and offering essential resources, this office will be instrumental in meeting this pivotal moment in our state,” the House Speaker said.
Rep. Collamore, a University of Maine employee, told the Committee Tuesday that she gives her testimony “shaking,” because she is getting “a lot of really bad feedback” for sponsoring the bill as a Republican.
Collamore argued that LD 2167 is not “a bill to provide money for housing,” or to “bring more immigrants to the State of Maine,” and is not meant to fix federal border policies.
Instead, Collamore said, the bill would get people “already living in our state working, so they can live independently without additional taxpayer support.”
No one who testified Tuesday provided any information about how many of the 5,000-10,000 migrants who have arrived in Maine since 2019 have entered the workforce, which they are eligible to do after residing in the U.S. for six months.
Hannah Pingree, the director of GOPIF, also claimed that ONA will not provide services, but will “coordinate policy.”
Pingree was unable to provide the Committee with a specific number for how much getting the new office off the ground would cost, but said that Mills would be putting forward funding for the office in her forthcoming supplemental budget proposal.
Chelsea Republican Rep. Mike Lemelin voiced several concerns about the bill Tuesday, including that as written the bill does not differentiate between immigrants who have come to Maine legally versus illegally.
Rep. Lemelin said that although he was “100 percent in favor of legal immigration,” many of the people seeking asylum in the U.S. crossed the border illegally, and have illegitimate asylum claims.
Lemelin argued that illegal immigration “destroys our economy and our society,” and is inhumane to the asylum seekers who are “bussed all over America.”
Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo) also testified in opposition to the ONA, saying that Gov. Mills “is placing people who arrived illegally in our state above Mainers currently undergoing severe economic difficulties.”
“A new office to continue to advance the federal government’s illegal immigration policy in Maine is severely tone deaf to the hardships our people are facing,” Rep. Smith said, adding that “our people” includes immigrants who came to the state legally.
“Maine I believe must look inward, and first get its own house in order,” Smith told the Committee.
State Rep. Mike Soboleski (R-Phillips), who is currently running to challenge Democratic Congressman Jared Golden in Maine’s 2nd District, sparred with bill sponsor Dhalac following his testimony over whether Maine should prioritize citizens over immigrants.
“Do you know the number of immigrants receiving welfare versus non-immigrants who are receiving welfare?” Dhalac asked Soboleski.
Soboleski said he did not know, but that he had recently visited a homeless encampment Bangor with 40 Mainers “freezing right now, without any services at all,” and the Hope House shelter, which Soboleski said is “begging for money that they don’t have.”
“We need to put our Maine citizens first,” Soboleski told Dhalac.
“So you’re saying we care about our Mainers that have been here for 400 or so years, but rather we do not care for the ones that are arriving? Because some of these folks are also homeless and do not have homes,” Dhalac followed up.
“That’s unfair. That’s incredibly unfair to say,” Soboleski shot back. “Because we need to take care of our people first.”
“The people that are coming here now aren’t escaping death, persecution — they’re coming here because they’re economic migrants, and they’re looking for a more economically sound life to have,” Soboleski said. “I appreciate that — go through the system.”