AUGUSTA – A broad coalition of advocates, faith leaders and members of the immigrant community today cheered a decision by the state of Maine to continue providing General Assistance (GA) to asylum seekers and other immigrants. Attorney General Janet Mills instructed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that the rule change was an unfunded mandate and unconstitutional, and her office refused to approve the rule.
Since January, the groups have called on the state to reject a proposal by Gov. LePage to deny GA to hundreds of new Mainers.
“We are pleased and relieved that the state rejected a proposal to eliminate the only safety net – General Assistance – for hundreds of immigrants residing here in Maine,” said Robyn Merrill, senior policy analyst at Maine Equal Justice Partners. “The proposed rule would have resulted in homelessness and devastation for these families, many of whom have already experienced incredible hardship. Fortunately, we are not turning our backs on these vulnerable new Mainers by eliminating this critical lifeline.”
Hundreds of people attended a DHHS hearing in January to oppose the rule change, and representatives later delivered more than 2,600 signatures from Maine residents urging rejection of the proposal.
“Not only did immigrant communities come together to oppose this proposal that would have devastated our communities, but we also saw thousands of concerned Maine residents come forward to support this basic safety net for Maine’s recent immigrants,” said Alain Nahimana, coordinator of the Maine Immigrant Right’s Coalition. “We saw the positive impact that Maine people can have on the democratic process when they get involved. We are so happy that state officials heard us all and responded to our concerns.”
The ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners argued that the proposal was not only unfair, it was also unconstitutional and violated state law. A similar law denying General Assistance on the basis of immigration status was overturned by the Supreme Court in the 1971 case, Graham v. Richardson.
"The Attorney General recognized the proposal for what it was - an unconstitutional, discriminatory policy that would have violated the promise of equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution," said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “This ruling reminds us that, in Maine, we don’t refuse to help the most vulnerable simply because they were born in another country."