Our partner profiles highlight the broad range of individuals and organizations we work with to advance and protect the rights of all people in Maine.
I meet with Alain Nahimana over coffee at the Arabica Coffee House on a bitterly cold February morning. He arrived in Maine to similarly frigid conditions just four years ago as an asylum seeker. Now, the ACLU of Maine collaborates with Alain on the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition (MIRC), a diverse group of organizations that work to better the experiences of immigrants in Maine. Currently, our MIRC partners are orchestrating a campaign to reject a proposed DHHS rule change that would deny General Assistance to asylum seekers and other immigrants.
In addition to this undertaking, Nahimana serves as the Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice Organizer at the Maine People’s Alliance. And he is the elected president of the Burundi Community Association of Maine. His dedication to immigrants' rights stems from his own experience as a new Mainer: “I was lucky to have any asylum process that went smoothly at that time. Since then, the system is tough with all the backlogs in the asylum process for people living in Maine. Something needs to be done about this.”
Raised in Burundi and Switzerland by his father, former ambassador to Switzerland, and his mother, former chairperson of the Women’s League of Burundi and champion of women’s rights, Nahimana developed a natural inclination to politics in his youth. Nahimana recalls his mother’s influence on his life: “I inherited her vision that to build a strong community, one has to empower women. The gender component is very important for me in whatever I do in immigrant communities. Women are the pillars of society and families. We need to recognize that and act accordingly by giving them the same opportunities and rights they deserve as citizens.”
As a young man, he returned to Burundi to start a public relations firm and participate in politics. After criticizing Burundi’s ruling political party for corruption, however, Nahimana’s life took an unexpected turn. He was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Following his release, he went into hiding and fled to Maine.
Nahimana tells me, between sips of coffee, that he relied on Maine’s General Assistance program from when he arrived in 2010 until he could legally work in 2011. In the face of proposed cuts to assistance for legal non-citizens, he boldly stepped forward as an advocate for immigrant rights. “Why?” I ask. “I hate injustice. It is very easy to discriminate if you do not look through the right lenses,” he replies. For that reason, he has been actively involved in the campaign to oppose the unconstitutional rule change that would deny General Assistance to asylum seekers.
When I ask what his biggest concerns are for immigrant rights in Maine, Nahimana articulates frustration with the defensive approach to immigration reform. “We appreciate when elected officials and advocate groups come out and defend immigrants when we are under attack, but we need to work for a reintegration agenda in civic life. We are so powerful when we are working together – why not use that potential to be productive? There need to be local initiatives for immigrant integration. This is my dream.”